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Even on holiday – or how I found a political demonstration in Barcelona. January 30, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.

Okay, back from Barcelona today, and a good trip it was too. Much to see and ponder on.

Saw the bullet holes and stopped off in a couple of bars and restaurants (En Gran Café in the Old Town and La Taula close to Putxet FCG station were particularly good). It was actually quite cold, around ten degrees on Saturday and Sunday, but a dry cold quite unlike the damp here. And it was sunny.

untitled-1.jpgSunday was particularly interesting with a long walk around the Old Town, where, purely by accident came across a demonstration in favour of the (Spanish) Peace Process outside the Regional government buildings (across from which appeared to be a large police station). A flurry of Basque and Catalan flags. This was held under the watchful eyes of the Mosses d’Esquadra – the local autonomous police force – (holding helmets and side arms no less, at a van parked along a side street – presumably just in case the fairly sedate crowd turned nasty). Very interesting it was too with a fairly large attendance and they really do these things in style on the continent. From time to time speakers broke into song accompanied by a pianist on a piano on the platform. With almost no command of Catalan or Spanish I can’t really relate any more than the basic gist of the meeting which was much as expected. In the meantime my heart went out to the Militant member standing rather isolated behind a table in a deserted corner of the square.

As interesting in it’s own way was an exhibition in the City History Museum which looked at the history of the Spanish Republic in Barcelona right up to its fall. This, it has to be said was pretty thin on details – the website for the exhibition available here is vastly superior. But the photographs blown up to larger than life size and various memorabilia including Picasso’s and Miro’s from that period were striking. As was the reasonable nature of the reforms introduced by the Republic from the eight hour week, holidays, social housing to mixed education. Enjoyable? No. There was a heartbreaking quality to the photographs of young men and women from the militia’s going to the fronts to fight the Nationalists. Heartbreaking because of their evident idealism, and the way in which those ideals were crushed both by their enemies and the supposed allies. But maybe the ideals they sought to uphold, yeah, even the simple ones such as the eight hour week, won out in the end.

In a way what’s interesting about the city is that it’s a living city even at it’s centre. Old apartment blocks crowd the streets off Las Ramblas giving the place a vital ambience. Large groups of people were dancing the traditional Catalan dance, whose name escapes me (I think it’s the sardana), to the music of a band. And sure, some of it is touristy, but not entirely. Although the banner on the top of some ‘Anarchist’ squatted apartments by Parc Guell had the glib and cheerless slogan “If it’s called tourist season – why can’t we shoot them?”.

Despite that it’s the sort of place worth many visits to really get under the skin of it. Had an interesting conversation with a Catalan on Monday evening in a restaurant and got a sense that in some respects the relationship with Spain was oddly similar in a number of ways to the relationship of this island with it’s neighbour. Obviously the political links are different (although perhaps one could argue that if the GFA flies that may change), but I’m thinking in one sense more of the cultural issues with the domination of language and so forth. I have to think about this a bit more…but the city, and Catalonia in general, is a truly fascinating place.

Breaking up is hard to do…and it’s also arguably the wrong thing to do: the PSNI, Sinn Féin and Republicanism January 26, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, The Left, Ulster, Uncategorized.

I’ve been reading the reports from the policing meetings in the North in the Irish Times and elsewhere, and so far it seems that there is a broad groundswell of opinion in Republican quarters that is willing to countenance recognition of the PSNI by Republicans. Gerry Moriarty in the Irish Times give a pretty vivid picture of a meeting in Galbally where Gerry Adams went head to head with the dissidents new poster-boy, Gerry McGeough. McGeough is a fascinating character being arguably ultra-traditionalist in his religious and some of of his social beliefs. However the arguments used by him were very telling.

They were distilled by Moriarty down to two quotes,

“Come clean, Gerry, tell the truth,” he said to Adams. “Do you sincerely believe that by recognising the British crown forces – the English crown forces who have brutalised and murdered our people, who have smashed in our doors, who have hassled, drove people into exile, who have beaten us in their interrogation rooms, who have put our people in prisons – that by recognising them now, and without a declaration of intent to withdraw, that we are seriously going to get the Irish republic that so many of us here have struggled for?”


“The real reason that you are railroading this issue through right now is simply so that you can look good for the cameras before the elections in the 26 counties in May or June,” he added.

So, in other words, firstly Adams and PSF are making a catastrophic error (or betrayal) regarding the previous actions and principles of Republicans, and secondly that the error is due at least in part due to electoral or political considerations rather than principle.

And these are thoughts that weigh heavily, I know, on people within PSF. That the electoral and political have trumped principle. That the party and movement are moving too fast and for too little return.

Their objections circle around the issue at hand, the PSNI and also other issues such as the nature of PSF as an organisation, party democracy and suchlike. Their response, and it’s an understandable one, is that they may leave PSF.

I’d judge that as a mistake, although I’m hugely aware that such judgement may sound presumptious as it’s made by one who belonged to a rival organisation and that I’m not a member of PSF. But even so, I still think it’s a mistake and it’s worth working through my reasoning.

Why so? Personal experience. Because it is easy to leave a party, I’ve done it myself twice. But very difficult to find an alternative vehicle for political activity, as I also know myself. I’d suggest that for those of us who consider ourselves Republicans, or influenced by Republican thinking, the field is very limited in terms of serious organisations out there. After all, what’s the choice? Joining the intransigents within the 32CSM or RSF? Any serious analysis, particularly in light of how relatively poorly they are playing the policing issue and how marginal their support even over this issue, demonstrates that they are a political and philosophical dead end. All other groupings are either too small or quite honestly (and entirely sincerely by their lights) not concerned about the issue of unity. And I see little to be gained in trying to reinvent this particular wheel yet again.

Actually on a slight tangent one of the amusing things about dissidents is how they have no real understanding of how irrelevant they are to the broader political discourse on this island. Indeed, because they have the larger and more successful PSF to shelter behind it has, to some degree, insulated them to the reality. Because PSF has to a considerable extent within Irish society re-legitimised ‘Republicanism’ as a philosophy (and it has, it’s not for nothing that we have Michael McDowell and the PDs promoting their brand of Republicanism – sincerely too I might add), they assume that their own brand of irredentism is re-legitimised. It isn’t. PSF have credibility (although clearly, there is a hard core in Ireland who retain their loathing and detestation of it and all it’s works and ‘Republicanism’, spread throughout all the major parties) because they have expanded the range of the concept, turning what was an inflexible and rather antiquated idea into one which is more flexible and adaptable, one which actually is willing to work with Unionism and engage with shared institutions.

And herein lies the problem. Because McGeough’s argument, like many a seemingly compelling argument, contains a grain of truth. And equally cleverly Adams didn’t deny it. There are electoral considerations, political considerations. As Moriarty records:

“Republicans must “think big”, he [Adams] said, and they must think strategically. “We are trying to prepare ourselves for political power in this state and in the southern State. It is only with political power that you can actually bring about political change,” he told the crowd.”

And that’s the reality, one which it’s essential that anyone involved in that project should consider. PSF has a degree of influence undreamt of by previous generations of Republicans since, arguably, the Civil War. As a vehicle for change it has the capacity to go much further than the WP (let alone DL), if only because it has genuine roots in both the urban and rural and all-island roots at that. But for that to happen it needs to retain progressive voices within it to ensure that flexibility doesn’t allow all principle to wither on the vine, for electoralism to become the only dynamic, for petty nationalism to overtake left Republicanism and for what has the long-term opportunity to be a serious party of the progressive left to disintegrate. And lest this sound like a paean of unalloyed praise of PSF it’s worth noting that I would have serious criticisms about many elements of that party’s position on a range of issues. But as a force that acts relatively well with the Greens and other left progressives I think it’s an important component of the contemporary political dynamic and one which it would be dismal to see founder.

I’ve argued here before, and recently, that I think PSF should sign up to policing. I think the prize is great, with Republicans (and not just Republicans) working shared institutions, establishing all-island/cross-border bodies. And, in the final analysis, what is the alternative? I can’t for the life of me see one, other than delaying the inevitable, or bar some sort of joint sovereignty, that will of it’s essence, and despite it’s best intentions deny any shred of democratic representation to those it oversees, whether Unionist, Nationalist or Republican. Sure Dublin/London direct rule isn’t the worst option, but there is a better one which would see institutions grounded on this island determining the development of the people of this island.

But the greater prize is as important for this island. And that’s why policing seems such an odd issue around which to see the current divisions within SF. I’ve no illusions as to the nature of the RUC, and never had (and indeed anyone who was in the WP should, more than most, having sat through Ard Fheis after Ard Fheis at which speakers from the North spoke have a clearer view of this than most – strangely it fell on mostly deaf ears) . It was a force with an explicitly sectarian outlook and character, despite containing honourable individuals. As such it is profoundly disgraceful that it was allowed to continue without radical reform throughout most of the period following the fall of Stormont. The O’Loan report should only be an addition to the knowledge about that particular organisation. However, the PSNI is a step forward, and the appendix to the O’Loan report which deals with reforms made at her offices request is important to note. Moreover here is a point where an engaged PSF could step in a working with others push for further reform.

Anyhow it’s all moot at this point. Delegates have been given their mandates. In some respects the vote is already determined one way or another. So, to reiterate, I’d strongly caution against people who may be thinking of leaving. There are bigger fish to fry in the near future, more important battles to be fought. éirigí left, in part so it appears, because PSF was shifting too far towards the electoral, too far from the traditional certainties. But, isolation brings it’s own certainties too.

I’ll be honest, I can’t read exactly what’s happening within PSF (and having been within WP when it split I know how difficult it is to tell even, perhaps particularly, from the inside how things really stand). Is this a North/South divide, is it a nascent split, is it simply the teething pains of a new dispensation as the GFA finally (finally) is implemented in full? So I’d hope and invite some voices within PSF to respond if only in general terms with their analyses. Because this has the potential to be a crucial period both in terms of that party and of the political processes on the island and it’s worth hearing what has to be said.

Barcelona, The Civil War, and where to go…or over to you! January 25, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.

A Chairde,

I’m away to Barcelona on Saturday morning for three or four days. I was there over the Summer and enjoyed it mightily if briefly. However, I was wondering did anyone have any advice as to places off the usual tourist trail which had a strong relationship with the Civil War? Saw the main touristy places so anything a little more challenging is  welcome…

Obviously I’m particularly interested in Anarchist or Marxist history and sites of interest.

So, all advice on good places to go is gratefully recieved.

Actually that also goes for restaurants and bars as well.

Is mise le meas,


éirigí – New Dawn Fades? Or…non-Sinn Féin Republicanism boldly going where many have gone before…. January 23, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11, Iraq, Ireland, Marxism, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Tony Blair, Ulster, Unionism.

Perhaps I’m one of the few on the island to feel this way, but I was as cheered to see the release of an éirigí policy document on Imperialism as I would welcome the release of new Cadogan Group documents. Both organisations are, I think, manifestations of the solutions to the shared problems we face. éirigí, for those interested in such things, is a split from Sinn Féin, ostensibly a leftward Democratic Socialist campaigning organisation, that as of yet does not appear to be a nascent political party (although it’s interesting that membership is restricted to those not members of other parties).

So I downloaded “Imperialism – Ireland and Britain” and at my leisure had a good read.

Still, have to say, I’m a bit worried about their future political direction. Why so you ask?

Well, let’s take the document which I won’t quote at in full (if only to bounce up the traffic stats to their site) piece by piece.

It’s introduced as…

one of a number [of papers] being produced by éirígí throughout 2007. Each will focus on a topic of significant importance to modern Ireland and its place in the broader world. These papers are the result of internal discussions and reflect the collective views of the membership of éirígí.

This paper is focused on the issue of imperialism, both historic and contemporary, and the profoundly negative effect that imperialism, as a policy, has had on the development of humanity across the globe in general and in Ireland in particular. We in éirígí reject the notion that imperialist policies and strategies are of a bygone era and instead assert that these policies are as real today as at any point in history.

Okay, so the paper identifies aspects of imperialism such as the policy of one country extending control over another, and further characteristics as being:

All imperialism is underpinned by a philosophy that deems the colonised in some way inferior to the coloniser. Racism, discrimination and exploitation are intrinsically linked to a policy which justifies the right of one people to dominate and exploit another. In rejecting imperialism, we in éirígí are also rejecting philosophies that place one human being as superior to another. We hold that all human beings are born equal and entitled to a set of basic human rights which allow them to fulfil their own potential.

Certain imperialisms, such as that of Rome, tended towards the wholesale assimilation of local elites into their civilisation precisely in order to ensure stability of control. Whether internal exploitation through slavery introduces a different dynamic is questionable. In more recent examples of imperialisms it is true that racism, discrimination and exploitation have been features of their processes. But on the other hand since éirigí considers that…well we’ll come to that thought in a moment.

This thesis is extended so that it acquires a modish leftist twist:

Imperialism is not just responsible for the creation of artificial borders and territories. It also creates, and relies upon, an entirely unequal and unjust distribution of the world’s wealth and wealth-generating resources. Our world is regularly divided into those countries which are deemed ‘developed’ and those that are deemed to be ‘developing’. It is both more accurate and more honest to divide the world into those countries whose peoples are materially rich and those whose peoples are materially poor. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of those countries which form the poor world are those same countries which endured, and are enduring, the imperialist policies adopted by many of those same countries which now form the rich world. Indeed it is the systematic robbery of the hugely valuable natural and human resources of the poor world that has made the rich world rich.

While in no sense dismissing the idea, very clear as it is, that colonial interventions did indeed hobble and restrict development outside Europe it’s not entirely clear that contemporary relationships between states can be so easily characterised as imperial in the sense used here. Moreover there are contrary trends with NGOs and elements of the UN working towards good governance, the rule of law and so on which undercuts local elites (acting at their own behest or that of foreign interests be they economic or political) in order to provide a stable political environment within which corruption is diminished and indigenous wealth can be retained or expanded. So we’re not talking about monolithic and seamless interfaces between states. That’s not either to deny that there exists an imbalance in power relationships between different states with the balance loaded towards advanced capitalist states. But I guess for me so many issues are raised that they beg too many questions as regards the definition of imperialism, the analysis that underpins their selection of the term and it’s applicability, and perhaps also in the disarming, but worrying, simplicity of the final statement in the final sentence. And returning to their earlier contention about “Racism, discrimination and exploitation” being inherent to imperialism, does that mean that our political systems, seeing as we’re part of the imperialistic process, is inherently racist, discriminatory and exploitation, or what exactly are the limits of imperialism? If the argument runs that the Condoleeza Rices of the world are merely window dressing that seems to me, boring old Marxist or post-Marxist that I am, to be disingenuous. Could it be that underneath this we’re really talking about class and elites rather than race? And it seems that in fairness, éirigí is talking about class, or as it put’s it “the business classes”. But the piece above reads as, perhaps, naive or perhaps simply calculating.

Under the section 21st Imperalism: New Form – Old Result we are told that:

éirígí recognises that imperialism in its twenty-first century form rarely necessitates the physical occupation of a given territory, although this option is always retained. Modern imperialist policies tend to be more subtle than previous forms although the end result is the same: the rich world harvests the wealth of the poor world. In the age of modern communications and a globalised economy it is often more profitable to exploit a country through political, cultural and economic means rather than military.

Where such allies cannot be found other means are deployed. One has to look no further than organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to see how effectively countries can be coerced into adopting economic and social polices that serve the interests of the rich world far more than the interests of their own people. éirígí stands in opposition to imperialism in all its forms.

Which also begs a number of questions. In a society like ours, and most advanced capitalist societies clearly we are all, or almost all, implicated which it notes in the following:

Our country has for eight centuries been the subject of British aggression and interference. Much of our history has been marked by oppression, famine, poverty and forced emigration. In this we have a shared history with the bulk of the world’s countries. However unlike the vast majority of these countries we are part of the European continent and as such now find ourselves to be part of the rich world.

Therefore we are simultaneously the victim of imperialism, through the British occupation, and the direct beneficiaries of imperialism, by our location within the rich world.

I’d strongly query that we are, as some would see it the ‘first colony’ – if such an honour or dishonour exists surely it belongs to Wales or Scotland, or perhaps the North of England. Nor is it clear that a simple equation of the Irish experience as a direct geographical neighbour of Britain or (let’s be more explicit) England renders us as a ‘victim’ of imperialism in the sense for example that parts of Africa or Asia were victims of British Imperialism. An alternative reading would see two islands where centralising power developed faster in England, but which was, perhaps due to the lack of centralised power in Ireland saw Britain unable for centuries to exercise full control. Or, as Stephen Howe has noted in Ireland and Empire the distinction between state-building and imperialism is more distinct in the Irish case. The incorporation of local elites, as occurred in Scotland, parts of England and Wales was perhaps something of a failure in Ireland. But not entirely so, and that such efforts were made somewhat undercuts ideas that this was simply a case of ‘racial superiority’. I don’t particularly want to get into other debates about the nature of nationhood and whether Ireland can be seen as a single political or cultural entity throughout the period (a highly arguable contention), whether the nature of the social structures on both islands was such that nationality was a much more amorphous concept in the past (as it appears to have been during the high point of the monarchies where for example England had territorial possessions on continental Europe) or indeed the impact of successive waves of peoples to these shores of which the Plantations can be seen as merely (!) one of the more pointed episodes. Our tragedy in that respect has arguably been our island nature, but then, compare and contrast our history with that of much of continental Europe and one wonders if that too was of a certain benefit to us, in that we were less likely to entertain aristocratic rule and that we were able to divest ourselves of our aristocracy with greater ease than elsewhere simply because they were not wholly ‘Irish’, although of course some were. But if we are a victim today of such imperialism, and one presumes in this context we’re talking about the North, then this is a Manichean proscription from éirigí and one which seems to ignore just how complex the outworkings of history can be. Indeed, reflect upon the idea that had a certain currency in the 19th century that Dublin was the Second city of the Empire. This was a Dublin where Catholic Emancipation had spurred on a developing mercantalist middle class.

From here it is but a short step to:

The joint system of twenty-first century imperialism and capitalism relies upon a passive acceptance of a racially-based exploitation. Much of the material wealth that the people of Ireland enjoy comes at a cost of human suffering that we would be unwilling to pay if the victims were Irish, or indeed white. Hard-fought for rights that we in Ireland take for granted are unknown to billions of our fellow human beings.

This is of course true. But overstated. Other analyses above and beyond the prism of ‘imperialism’ such as those proffered by the Greens seem to me to be more acute and economically better thought out with regard to development and the appalling imbalances between different parts of the globe.

We in Ireland have a humanitarian duty to reject the capitalist/imperialist system and the exploitative philosophy underpinning it. Furthermore, we must endeavour to pursue a form of governance and international relations based upon justice and co-operation, and use our position within Europe to encourage others to do likewise.

Here one has to stop. Are capitalism and imperialism truly synonymous as the anonymous author suggests? Isn’t it more feasible to argue that the nature of societies, states and economic power has altered quite radically across the 20th century. The rise of MNCs and TNCs is in itself a major change, but as importantly, I’d consider is a difference within advanced capitalist societies which does not consider exploitative philosophies to be acceptable in the main. Again, that’s not to disagree that such philosophies exist and are put into practice, but there are now pressures on corporations and governments that persist in maintaining them from their domestic or formerly domestic populations. Indeed in today’s Guardian George Monbiot argues that corporations are becoming conscious of their responsibilities to a degree unthinkable five years ago. Add to this Bush being lobbied by major corporations to act on climate change and again, the monolithic idea of corporate power is as poor old Nick Cohen (who gets a bad rap around here, I know) argued, back in the days when he woz really really good, a bit of an overstatement in a world where international organisations such as the EU and the UN and even states still have remarkable autonomy and authority when working in concert.

In any case there are counter arguments made about the efficacy of capitalism as a means of expediting development. Personally I’m rather dubious about such arguments, since it seems to me that capitalism works best within advanced states, particularly those with strong social democratic structures, but I’m open to such arguments.

And so to Ireland.

The most recent of such treaties, namely the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements, of 1998 and 2006 respectively, contain many of the features that have defined British treaties in Ireland for centuries. Three such features stand out most clearly.

* Firstly, central to both of these agreements is an absolute acceptance of the legitimacy of British rule in Ireland. The constitutional status of Britain’s occupation will not change until a majority of those within the occupied six counties so decide– in effect one sixth of the Irish people will hold a veto over the other five-sixths.

* Secondly Britain’s long history of nurturing false divisions in Ireland continues with power being allocated on the basis of a crude sectarian head-count designed to deepen and prolong false divisions along religious lines.

* Finally, as with all British treaties, there is the apparent potential for those who support Irish freedom to achieve a long-term victory if they are willing to support the status quo in the short-term. In this the British government is at its most devious. Britain has conceded enough to convince some who oppose British rule in Ireland that these latest treaties are substantially different to all previous treaties and therefore worthy of support. In this the British draw upon their not insubstantial experience in negotiations and hope to neutralise the demand for British withdrawal and Irish Freedom. Failing this the British hope to lay the seeds of division among those who would nominally desire Irish freedom but disagree upon how it may be achieved.

We in éirígí are convinced that these two most recent treaties are considerably more likely to solidify British rule in Ireland than they are to end it.

This is interesting. They choose to address the Good Friday Agreement (interestingly using the name adopted by Unionism for that Agreement) head on. However, in points 1 through 3 they ignore a key aspect of the GFA, that of the establishment of the Assembly which has executive authority to generate cross-border (or all-island) bodies with the Republic of Ireland. Since the Assembly and Dáil Éireann are exclusively Irish political entities it seems churlish not to recognise that fact. Moreover to concentrate on the ‘legitimacy of British rule’ is to ignore the actual withdrawal of considerable elements of that ‘rule’ and devolution of British Ministerial powers to the Executive of the Assembly – including most notably in our current context that of policing. Now, I’m not arguing that this devolution is ideal. But to then argue as in 2 and 3 that this in fact is really a ‘deepening and prolonging’ of ‘false divisions’, or that this is ‘devious’ is to reify British agency to a ludicrous degree. It’s also to deny any autonomous agency to perhaps the most important actors in this dynamic, Unionists. And again, who benefits. This very day the Irish government has announced it’s goals through the NDP, a broad programme of initiatives on an all-island basis. Arguably at least a de facto extension of sovereignty. Don’t just read the Executive Summary, the full text is eye-opening.

Meanwhile the British government is making ostentatious noises about it’s inability to pay for the North. Now perhaps this is simply more ‘deviousness’ on their part. And perhaps in a brilliant trick redolent of Keyser Soze they’ve managed to convince us that they don’t exist and this is yet another manifestation of their imperial guile by persuading the Irish government to foot the bill for the ‘occupation’. But perhaps not.

Others have argued that Britain no longer has ambitions of empire and is in fact preparing to withdraw from Ireland, using the establishment of the Stormont assembly and increased levels of cross-border co-operation to support this hypothesis.

We in éirígí reject this analysis. We believe that the evidence indicates the opposite to be true. Britain is simply re-shaping and modernising the occupation and in doing so is attempting to portray her role in Ireland as neutral while simultaneously co-opting an ever larger section of the population into supporting the occupation. The current British government have over the last number of years implemented a policy of regionalised parliaments and assemblies with the objective of securing the long-term integrity of the so called “United Kingdom”. The British establishment has moved to neutralise the demands for complete independence for Scotland, Wales and Ireland by conceding limited powers to locally elected representatives. This tactic, and variations of it, has been successfully used on many occasions throughout history. This is the context within which the Stormont Assembly was established.

I don’t wish to be harsh, but surely this is utterly contradictory stuff, contradicted indeed by events. The establishment of devolved representative institutions by definition decreases central authority (and arguably, in the case of the GFA where authority is exercised across a range of areas by the institutions on the island, sovereignty itself). The Scottish Parliament has limited tax raising powers and economic powers. Their very existence raises issues of localisation, accountability and such like. Tom Nairn, in his seminal “The Breakup of Britain” argued that devolution would only be a step along the way to independence. Indeed, an interesting article in Prospect Magazine from December 2006 by Scottish Conservative Michael Fry actually argues that devolution has impelled him towards support for Independence for Scotland. Where he goes, no doubt others will follow (interestingly he also argues that ‘more recently Labour has seen no desire to hang on to Northern ireland and would probably view the exit of the six counties from the Union with the same feelings of relief as Lloyd George saw the 26 counties go’). More to the point, it’s important to note the SNP is trying to entice the Liberal Democrats into coalition in the next Scottish Parliament if they win enough seats, the sticking point is whether there should be a referendum on independence (although it’s also worth noting this may not be within the gift of the Parliament). So éirigí, to my mind willfully, ignore the dynamic that devolved institutions generate. They also ignore their/our own history. Note the way that Stormont accrued powers as time went on from it’s foundation. That’s the way such things work, particularly when jurisdictions are spread across islands. And for other examples of same note the gradual but inexorable dissolution of Serbia.

Increased co-operation between the Dublin and London governments and increased co-operation between the business classes on both sides of the border is in reality simply part of a broader pattern of globalisation and European Union-wide integration and not evidence of a gradual British withdrawal.

Well, no. And even on it’s own terms it’s not really logical. European integration also involves a sharing and pooling of sovereignty. Something their erstwhile colleagues in SF found particularly objectionable in previous years.

If further evidence of Britain’s contemporary imperial ambitions is required one need only look to Britain’s role in the invasion and occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq. For those who have claimed that Britain is now a force for good in both an Irish and a global context, the lie has been well and truly exposed.

We’ve seen at best, and defined by the actions of one T. Blair a willingness to play Greece to Bush’s Rome. And those actions, whatever else they are are not empire. More over it ignores the amazing complexity of relationships between Britain and it’s former colonies. Take, for example the recent exchanges between India and the UK over Big Brother. Laughable one might say, risible even. But of key importance to Gordon Brown on his visit there to make sure that trade links to the UK from India (consider the relationship too between large scale Indian industrial enterprise and the British Labour Party, remember what I was saying about class being the key determinant, although my fear has shifted to one focussed on the plutocracy of which George Bush is a rather excellent example) remained strong and stable. Who is the dominant partner in that relationship? And here it’s necessary to shift the terrain of this debate slightly, because éirigí appear to forget that imperialism is but one stage of capitalism, and capitalism is the base. Capitalism, being infinitely adaptable is liable to appear in the strangest places and the strangest forms, one thinks of the Peoples Republic of China.

As for being a force for good? Britain is a large and relatively powerful state with some ability to project itself internationally. It acts, as do all states at all times including our own, in it’s own self-interest mediated by other factors. I don’t see it as uniquely good or uniquely evil. Some actions have been good, other clearly not. But to point to Iraq, which is a clear aberration in terms of British conduct on the international stage since the mid 1980s, is to underestimate or ignore the nature of the issue of Iraq itself, the international dynamic that emerged post September 11 and the personality and charisma of Tony Blair (anyone seriously think Brown would have been able to carry Parliament in 2002/2003?). If anything we’ve seen a disengagement from foreign adventures – as evidenced by the conduct of Britain and other European nations during the Yugoslav Seccessionist wars of the 1990s.

Then there is the slightly disturbing note in the paragraph:

Irish freedom will only be achieved when the demand for British withdrawal is once again placed centre stage of the Irish, British and International arenas and when the cost to Britain of holding Ireland outweighs the benefits of withdrawal. We believe the time is approaching when that demand will once again be loudly voiced.

What exactly does that mean beyond rhetoric? Is éirigí going to be the vehicle for placing withdrawal at the centre stage? Hardly, to judge from their current activities and outlook.

In the building of such a movement inspiration can be sought, and lessons learned, from our own history. In the period prior to the 1916 Rising Ireland witnessed a cultural revival encompassing the Irish language, music and sports. The same period saw the growth of both a separatist movement advocating Irish freedom and a revolutionary form of socialism and trade unionism. It was by drawing support from all three of these trends that that the most successful Irish Rebellion to date, and the following five year revolutionary period, occurred.

That’s fine, but it ignores so many aspects of that period that it makes comparisons with the present completely inappropriate. Firstly in the 1900s there was a defined ‘other’, the British presence on an all-island level, which provided something to strive against. That has gone from 26 counties and even in the six counties the nature of society has altered to the extent that confrontation with the ‘other’ is muted. Secondly this was a period when the state was almost unbelievably laissez-faire, but extravagantly brutal in it’s treatment of dissent, where democratic structures were relatively weak and limited. We live in a broad if shallow social-democratic state in the RoI (and let’s be honest within the six counties as well) so the strong class and revolutionary activism of the 1900s on can hardly be replicated. Those who advocate same are largely as relevant as performance artists (and to some degree there is a similar ‘gestural’ aspect to this sort of political activity). Thirdly the diffusion of media, the ‘service’ state and the delivery of a plurality of viewpoints has, counterintuitively given new life to cultural elements (such as the Irish language – already dealt with here in an earlier post) but also to some extent ‘flattened’ them into just another part of the cultural mix. The idea that a cultural revival could link with revolutionary socialism and territorial Republicanism is a chimera. It’s simply not going to happen and wishing it were so isn’t going to make it so. But worse is the use of the phrase ‘most successful’ and ‘five year revolutionary’ period. Any reading of the period will demonstrate that firstly it failed if the object was the establishment of a 32 county Republic – so ‘most successful’ is hardly relevant – as well say ‘least unsuccessful’, they dismiss the 26 county RoI as a colonial or submissive and conservative entity in any case so the result was hardly beneficial by their own lights, and realistically there was little serious revolutionary activity in the sense I presume they mean of leftist revolution. A small scattering of leftists does not a socialist revolution make, and the very fact we know the names of them is indicative of their relative marginalisation within the national struggle. Nor was any revolution betrayed in so far as an overwhelmingly conservative society remained overwhelmingly conservative after Independence (and for more on this I can only recommend The Irish Counter Revolution 1921-1936 by John Regan which demonstrates that socialism had very little sway on either side during the Civil War and that projection about that is simply projection). But worst of all, they ignore the fact that the revolution failed in the North because of inherent differences in that part of the island to the rest of island. The reasons for those differences may have been wrong, the product of a British proto-imperialism. But they remain extant. And if a risen people in 1916 to 1921 couldn’t change the equation what are the chances of a vastly more supine people doing better in 2007 to 2016?

We in éirígí also wish to see an end to the false divisions that Britain has so carefully fostered in Ireland and believe that a new political and social movement may offer a mechanism to do just that. We challenge those who may historically have believed that their interests were best served by supporting the British presence in Ireland to re-examine their position in the context of the twenty-first century. We appeal to members of this community to join us in a political movement for the creation of a new all-Ireland Republic where all the people of Ireland will be entitled to an equal share of the nation’s wealth and equal access to power regardless of class, religion, gender, ethnicity, or other false division.

By discarding the GFA éirigí explicitly discard the one mechanism by which it is plausible that those who ‘historically’ believe their interests are best served by supporting the British position are likely to work together with Republicans and see that their identity is not threatened by increasing and deepening cooperation on the island. But here they fall into the trap of simply considering Unionism (interestingly they never once in the document refer to Unionism by name – a telling omission) simply a ‘false consciousness’. If there’s one message I want to use this blog to hammer home it’s that Unionism isn’t going to go away, that Unionists aren’t going to relinquish their Unionism although they may well adapt and modify it to different political circumstance as many Republicans have, and that Republicans must come to terms with this and learn to engage with them on a new set of terms. But conceptually I have to say that I find the very idea that the divisions raised above are ‘false’ is depressing. Because the problem is they’re not. They remain potent fault lines that run through all human societies to a greater or lesser extent and if the analysis is that they are somehow imposed or the result of external pressures then éirigí have more work to do on dealing with them (and by way of example let me point to the noxious racism that has entered the Irish political debate. Who are those who are rightly most strongly in favour of immigration, why it’s those political polar opposites Sinn Féin and the… Progressive Democrats. And who are those using seemingly leftwing arguments of ‘solidarity’ and such like to argue against immigration? If this doesn’t demonstrate that pieties about imperialism and the British have no traction in these debates I’m not sure what does).

In fact perhaps the crucial flaw in the document is the shift away from pragmatism on almost every level towards a sort of starry eyed idealism and ideology. Problem with Unionism? Why just invite Unionists to be Republicans. Problem with Partition? Dismiss the GFA and return to the tired old saws of ‘British occupation’, which – while correct in one respect – elide the complexities of the situation. What independence exists is in éirigí’s eyes insufficient because it doesn’t measure up to a platonic absolute of an ill-defined ‘Democratic Socialism’. Isn’t this, in most respects the tired old mantra’s that we’ve heard from RSF, 32CSM and to a lesser extent the IRSP (lesser if only because their Marxism is a little better defined)?

I genuinely don’t want this to be regarded as an attack on éirigí, but more an appeal for greater clarity in thinking. If we’re going to have clarity on these issues, and we certainly need it, I’d ask for greater analysis and at least some effort to avoid presenting beliefs as self-evident truth. I applaud them for their energy and commitment. It’s genuine and it’s sincere. They’re thinking about these issues and their dedication can’t be faulted. But rather like a point I made previously about the Cadogan Group and it’s thinking arriving at the same old same old destination of traditional Unionism here we have non-Sinn Féin Republicans generating a left Republican variant of the Socialist Workers’ Party. And truly this island doesn’t need that.

A part of me wonders also just when is a non-SF Left Republican group going to start from scratch with an honest, as distinct from rhetorical, analysis of the situation, one that acknowledges that at best perhaps 20% of the Irish people are self-described Republicans. That they are largely subsumed within a somewhat larger but still small left wing. That SF, for now, has the franchise on Republicanism in the North and the South. That the idea that 1916 is going to return, or that the energy harnessed during the 1916-1921 period is still untapped, is delusional. That Unionism can’t just be wished away and a return to armed struggle is both wrong in tactical, strategic and ethical terms. That the problems that face Republicanism are huge and that realistically it will only gain any measure of power by serious engagement with others. That’s the start, barely the bare bones, of a genuine programme for a post-SF future on the left…

And that’s why in it’s most basic outlook this document, welcome – despite the criticisms above – that it is as evidence that at least they’re beginning to think through the situation, but lacking such an analysis is a very conservative document indeed.

The O’Loan Report: the RUC, Collusion and the Policing Debate, or…never mind the detail, consider the response. January 22, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Republicans, Sinn Féin, Ulster, Unionism.
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Call me a cynic, but I chuckled involuntarily when reading on the ITs Breaking News section that “PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde today said Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s report into security force collusion made shocking reading”. “Shocking”, one presumes, in the sense that something is unsurprising and expected.

And yet perhaps Orde is shocked, shocked that such activities continued, at least as far as the scope of the Ombudsmans enquiries as recently as 1997. That’s not ancient history. That’s very recent history, although the date is telling in so far as it marks the point of a change of government in the United Kingdom from Conservative to Labour (and perhaps if I were the Labour Party I might be a tad less circumspect about trumpeting that particular fact at an upcoming election – certainly someone seems to have believed that they had a freer rein under a different political dispensation).

The report is long. The PDF I downloaded from the Office of the Ombudsman runs to 162 pages. I’ve scanned through it, and this is by no means an exhaustive trawl (incidentally, perhaps it’s just my version of Acrobat, but in numbered documents is it so difficult to bookmark individual pages, trying to read it is a messy and frustrating experience).

The details are predictable, senior levels of the RUC are implicated at least indirectly in the death of Raymond McCord Jnr, murdered in 1997 by the UVF. The lack of cooperation by former RUC members, up to the level of assistant chief-constables tells it’s own story. They ‘refused to provide an explanation of Special Branch and CID internal practices during the period in question’.

or as the relevant section puts it:

Lack of Co-operation and Time Delay
8.1 The main difficulty encountered during Operation Ballast has been the refusal of a number of retired RUC / PSNI senior officers to co-operate with this enquiry, despite the fact that the Police Ombudsman took a number of steps to facilitate the needs of these retired officers:

The Executive Summary details the following areas of concern:

9. Intelligence reports and other documents within the RUC and the PSNI, most of which were rated as ‘reliable and probably true’, linked informants, and in particular one man who was a police informant (referred to in this report as Informant 1) to the following ten murders:

• Mr Peter McTasney who died on 24 February 1991;
• Ms Sharon McKenna who died on 17 January 1993;
• Mr Sean McParland who was attacked on 17 February 1994, and died on 25 February 1994;
• Mr Gary Convie who died on 17 May 1994;
• Mr Eamon Fox who died on 17 May 1994, in the same attack as Mr Gary Convie;
• Mr Gerald Brady who died on 17 June 1994;
• Mr Thomas Sheppard who died on 21 March 1996;
• Mr John Harbinson who died on 18 May 1997;
• Mr Raymond McCord Junior who died on 09 November 1997
• Mr Thomas English who died on 31 October 2000.

The Police Ombudsman’s investigators also identified less significant police intelligence implicating Informant 1 in 5 other murders. For some of these murders, there is generally only one piece of intelligence, which police have not rated as reliable.
Intelligence was also found linking police informants, and in particular Informant 1, to ten attempted murders between 1989 and 2002.
Intelligence was also found which implicated police informants, and in particular, Informant 1, in a significant number of crimes in respect of which no action or insufficient action was taken:
• Armed robbery;
• Assault and Grievous Bodily Harm;
• Punishment shootings and attacks;
• Possession of munitions;
• Criminal Damage;
• Drug dealing;
• Extortion;
• Hijacking;
• Intimidation;
• Conspiracy to murder;
• Threats to kill.

One piece is particularly striking, a ‘foiled’ bombing campaign by the UVF in Dublin in 1996 and attacks on SF offices in Monaghan by the UVF using explosives in 1997 (note that Monaghan is in the RoI) elicit this conclusion:

24.10 The only official records, apart from the reward application, which show the explosives were used in Monaghan is in a confidential document prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions for Informant 1s arrest on another matter. It records that he thwarted ‘a bombing campaign in the Republic of Ireland’ on 25 November 1996 and that he thwarted ‘a bomb attack in Monaghan’ on 3 March 1997. The document does not mention that Informant 1 had a role in the attack and that the explosives were returned to him by police.
24.11 There is no evidence that Special Branch informed the Garda Siochana at any stage of this bombing attempt, or of who was behind it. The Garda Commissioner has confirmed to the Police Ombudsman that Special Branch did not provide them with any intelligence about this incident. The Police Ombudsman wrote to the Chief Constable asking him to pass on this intelligence.

The conclusion is stunning:

32.1 In his Stevens 3 Report Lord Stevens defined collusion as “the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, the extreme of agents being involved in murder..”
32.2 In his reports on his Collusion Enquiries into the deaths of Patrick Finucane, Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson, and Billy Wright, Judge Cory states that:

“the definition of collusion must be reasonably broad… That is to say that army and police forces must not act collusively by ignoring or turning a blind eye to the wrongful acts of their servants of agents, or supplying information to assist them in their wrongful acts, or encouraging them to commit wrongful acts. Any lesser definition would have the effect of condoning or even encouraging state involvement in crimes, thereby shattering all public confidence in these important agencies.””
32.3 The Police Ombudsman has used these definitions for the purposes of examining whether collusion has been identified in the course of this investigation.

32.4 In the absence of any justifiable reason why officers behaved as they did, the Police Ombudsman has identified from police documentation, records and interviews, collusion in the following areas:

• The failure to arrest informants for crimes to which those informants had allegedly confessed, or to treat such informants as suspects for crime;

• By creating interview notes which were deliberately misleading; by failing to record and maintain original interview notes and by failing to record notes of meetings with informants;

• The failure to deal properly with information received from informants, so that informants were able to avoid investigation and detection for crime;

• By arresting informants suspected of murder then subjecting them to lengthy sham interviews by their own handlers at which they were not challenged and then releasing them on the authorisation of the handler;

• By not recording in investigation papers the fact that an informant was suspected of a crime despite the fact that he had been arrested and interviewed for that crime;

• By failing to take steps to hinder an attempted bombing by the establishment of an operation either to disrupt or arrest the alleged perpetrators whose names were known to Special Branch;

• By giving instructions to junior officers that records should not be completed, and that there should be no record of the incident concerned;

• By ensuring the absence of any official record linking a Special Branch informant to the possession of explosives which may, and were thought, according to private police records, to have been used in a particular crime;

• By withholding information from CID that the UVF had sanctioned an attack;

• By concealing from CID intelligence that named persons, including an informant or informants, had been involved in particular crimes;

• By withholding information about the location to which a group of murder suspects had allegedly fled after a murder;

• By the concealment on a number of occasions of intelligence indicating that up to three informants had been engaged together in murders and a particular crime or crimes;

• By routinely destroying all Tasking and Co-ordinating Group original documentary records so as to conceal an informant’s involvement in crime;

• By destroying or losing forensic exhibits such as metal bars and tape lifts;

• By not requiring appropriate forensic analysis to be carried out on items submitted to the Forensic Science Service Laboratory;

• by blocking the searches of a police informant’s home and of another location, including an alleged UVF arms dump;

• By not questioning informants about their activities and continuing to employ informants without risk assessing their continued use as informants;

• By finding munitions at an informant’s home and releasing him without charge;

• By not informing local police of an anticipated attack, and not taking any action to prevent the attack;

• By not using the available evidence and intelligence to detect a crime and to link the investigation of crimes in which an informant was a suspect;

• By some Special Branch officers deliberately disregarding a very significant amount of intelligence about informant involvement in drug dealing in Larne, and North Belfast and in punishment attacks linked to drug dealing from 1994 onwards;

• By continuing to employ as informants people suspected of involvement in the most serious crime without assessing the attendant risks or their suitability as informants;

• By not acting on witness and other evidence received in particular crimes when the suspect was an informant;

• By not considering or attempting to conduct identification processes when there was particular evidence from witnesses about a criminal’s appearance;

• By providing at least four misleading and inaccurate confidential documents for possible consideration by the court in relation to four separate incidents and the cases resulting from them, where those documents had the effect of protecting an informant;

• By not informing the Director of Public Prosecutions that an informant was a suspect in a crime in respect of which an investigation file was submitted to the Director;

• By their failure to maintain the record of intelligence which was the basis for applications for extensions of time in detention to the Secretary of State;

• By withholding intelligence from police colleagues including the names of alleged suspects which could have been used to attempt to prevent and to detect crime;

• By the practice of Special Branch not using and following the practice of authorisation of participating informants;

• By completing false and misleading authorisations and reviews of informants for the purposes of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act;

• By cancelling the wanted status of murder suspects “because of lack of resources” and doing nothing further about these suspects;

• This investigation has examined the activities of police officers responsible for informants over a period of twelve years. On only one occasion have PSNI provided any document indicative of consideration of the termination of the relationship which Special Branch had with any of these informants, despite the extent of the alleged involvement of these informants in the most serious of crimes.

But what is more significant in one key respect is the response (apart from that of Hugh “shocked” Orde). Immediately Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern have described the findings as ‘deeply disturbing’. And Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern noted that “Who now could doubt that there was a need for a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland, as called for in the Good Friday Agreement and brought about through the implementation of the Patten Report? By failing to protect its citizens in such a way, the State failed in one of its primary duties”, while Northern Secretary Peter Hain said that “These things – murder, collusion, cover-up, obstruction of investigations – could not happen today, not least because of the accountability mechanisms that have been put in place over recent years…There are all sorts of opportunities for prosecutions to follow…The fact that some retired police officers obstructed the investigation and refused to co-operate with the Police Ombudsman is very serious in itself”.

As for Sinn Féin, Martin McGuinness suggested that it would make a powerful contribution to the policing debate and “It raises the question about how many more areas were affected, and how many more people were murdered by elements effectively within the RUC and British intelligence”.

Interesting. Everyone is largely containing this to the past, i.e. drawing a line between then and today, while also, as in the case of Hain, opening the way towards further action. The implications are remarkable. Assistant Chief Constables refusing to engage with an enquiry is suggestive. Collusion proven is a serious step forward and one which potentially destabilises elements within Unionism, indeed one wonders whether the recent backing away from the reinstatement of the RUC by the DUP and the wilder fringes of the UUP is indicative of a recognition that that particular game is up.

But overall it is a good days work. And surely, surely the timing cannot be coincidental because if one casts one eye to Appendix A, what does one read but the following:

1. In the early stages of Operation Ballast, the Police Ombudsman made it clear to the Chief Constable that she had serious concerns about the way PSNI had handled and managed paramilitary informants since the early 1990s. The Police Ombudsman informed the Chief Constable that as a result of these concerns she was conducting a criminal investigation into the actions of a number of Special Branch officers.

2. As a result of these pressures from the Police Ombudsman, along with the Stevens III recommendations and a report by the Surveillance Commissioner, PSNI have radically changed their working practices since 2003.

3. The main change has been structural, in that Special Branch is no longer a separate part of the PSNI, but has been integrated into the broader Crime Operations Department.


41. The Police Ombudsman hopes that these new measures by PSNI will prevent the failures identified by Operation Ballast from re-occurring in the future.

Things have changed, but it’s the enormous rapidity which is so striking. 2003? That’s barely yesterday, and it demonstrates the need for serious engagement with policing. An engagement that has to be by policing as much as by the community at large. I’ve argued here that SF should sign up, indeed I have another post in the works on just that topic. But this is desperately important, because it undercuts the ground from the DUP over policing. The RUC, whatever the nature of individual officers within it who took an honourable course, was an institution that was seriously compromised, that had to be replaced. The PSNI is a clear step in the right direction. But for any political party to pretend that there is a high ground held in the past, that if only for Republicans all would be normal, is delusion.

That’s something Republicans should consider carefully. This report makes their task paradoxically both easier and more difficult. More difficult because there will be many who see this as the alpha and omega of their justifications for not engaging, easier because it removes a central plank of the DUPs arguments relating to policing.

The next couple of weeks will be interesting. As will the response from Unionism (bar the risible response from Jimmy Spratt).

Edited in later by me: Worth noting also the extremely dignified approach of Raymond McCord Snr. this evening, who without his tenacity this grim truth wouldn’t have surfaced. For his sake, that of his son and the other victims, and arguably many others whose stories haven’t been told so far a public enquiry seems a minimal demand. However, it appears that at this point that is unlikely.


By the by, isn’t it moving towards the time when we appoint a Minister for Northern Ireland/the North, as distinct from the current situation where the DFA has authority (or rather could not the DFA retain authority but have a seperate Minister appointed, or if we want to be particularly contorted why not have Minister for Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland – I’m aware of the Anglo-Irish division but that’s not quite the same thing really)? If it’s Plan B we’ll need one, and if it’s the GFA yep, we’re going to need one too.

Who is the berserker? – yet further Nick Cohen vs “The Left” January 21, 2007

Posted by joemomma in Books, Iraq, The Left.

M’learned colleague smiffy has already waded into the extracts of Nick Cohen’s new book featured in today’s Observer, with specific reference to Cohen’s bizarre claim that Sinn Féin were “in charge of” the Irish anti-war protests in February 2003. That claim certainly jumped off the page at me also, but the extract which puzzled me most was at the end of the article, where Cohen presents two choices that liberals faced after the Iraq war began.

The first was to oppose the war, remain hypercritical of aspects of the Bush administration’s policy, but support Iraqis as they struggled to establish a democracy.

Sounds good to me. In fact, it sounds exactly like the policy pursued by any anti-war activist who retains any degree of credibility and even, to an extent, by the likes of George Galloway. There are those who go out of their way to align themselves with reactionary or theocratic forces, but I dare say that most people who opposed the war would like to see democracy flourish in Iraq. The fact that this hasn’t happened yet is hardly the fault of those opposed to the war. Similarly, based on the experience to date, you can’t really blame the anti-war movement if they continue to think that more troops won’t necessarily secure this objective.

However, the sentence quoted above is not really an accurate summary of the choice presented by Cohen. It seems that to earn absolution from Cohen, the left would have to perform a mea culpa by admitting that the war was actually kind of okay after all:

From the point of view of the liberals, the only grounds they would have had to concede if they had stuck by their principles in Iraq would have been an acknowledgement that the war had a degree of legitimacy. … All they would have had to accept was that the attempt to build a better Iraq was worthwhile and one to which they could and should make a positive commitment.

In other words, it’s not possible to support a peaceful and democratic future for Iraq unless you accept that you were wrong to oppose the war in the first place. Given that most opponents of the war believe that the war itself and the manner of its conduct are important contributory factors in the mess that is Iraq today, its hard to see why they would, or indeed should, accept that supporting it is prerequisite to supporting the resolution of said mess.

In any case why should it matter what liberals think, in retrospect, of their decision to oppose the war? Is it really so important for Cohen to have been right in 2003 that he can’t reconcile himself with anyone who still cleaves to the opposite view? Is it impossible for interventionists like Cohen to make common cause with other leftists who refuse to agree with him on this semi-historical point? Is there no path forward which does not start from a position of support for the decision to go to war, if not for the manner of the war’s prosecution?

Even if so, it seems Cohen is convinced that the left has not taken and will not take such a path. Instead they have decided on his second option, to “go berserk”:

The second choice for the liberals was to do the wrong thing for the right reasons. To look at the Iraqi civilians and the British and American troops who were dying in a war whose central premise had proved to be false, and to go berserk; to allow justifiable anger to propel them into ‘binges of posturing and ultra-radicalism’ as the Sixties liberals had done when they went off the rails. As one critic characterised the position, they would have to pretend that ‘the United States was the problem and Iraq was its problem’. They would have to maintain that the war was not an attempt to break the power of tyranny in a benighted region, but the bloody result of a ‘financially driven mania to control Middle Eastern oil, and the faith-driven crusade to batter the crescent with the cross’.

Again, the question of a way forward is less important than what the left think of the motives of the US in going to war. Cohen could legitimately attack the left for failing to put forward a cohesive analysis of or strategy for the future of Iraq, but again it seems he’s less interested in the future than the past. His disagreements with the left are not on the question of what should be done next, but on the question of whether what has already been done was done for the right reasons. This is not an entirely academic question, but Cohen seems to be allowing it to trump all other considerations in his relationship with the left.

This extract also highlights the other problem with Cohen’s characterisation of the anti-war left, in that he makes no attempt to differentiate between the various tendencies which are therein represented. He ignores the fact that the anti-war movement is a broad church, encompassing a lot of mainstream elements as well as the far left. Cohen aims his attacks at the “liberal left” or just “liberals”, but more often than not those he quotes are not really liberals at all. He accepts at face value the claims of the likes of the SWP to speak for the entire anti-war movement. It’s hard to see why we should take the pronouncements of the micro-left as representative of a movement which also incorporates elected members of the US senate.

In short, I think Cohen is fighting the wrong battle. As a supporter of the war, there are plenty of fronts on which he could engage his erstwhile comrades, for example the question of how the left propose to address sectarian conflict in Iraq, the support expressed by some left figures for reactionary forces in Iraq, or the odd coalition between theocracy and socialism found in the anti-war movement in the UK. However, by fixating on winning the argument from 2003, he just makes it sounds like a personal crusade to be proved right.

Having said all that, another extract from the book demonstrates why it would be perfectly understandable for Cohen to allow his analysis to be coloured by a sense of personal betrayal. It’s not available on the Observer’s web site, but in a “sidebar” extract in the printed paper Cohen describes the extent of anti-semitic attacks he received by email after publishing one of his first pieces critical of the anti-war movement. I can perfectly understand how the experience of sustaining such hate-filled and hypocritical attacks from what should be your own side could provoke a breach which is not easy to subsequently heal. Of course, there is again the fact that many of those sending these emails were no doubt not terribly liberal to begin with, but I can readily believe that some of the attacks of this nature came from people who should know better.

Nick Cohen vs. “The Left” (again … and again … and again) January 21, 2007

Posted by smiffy in Books, Iraq, Media and Journalism, The Left.

Nick Cohen used to be good. He used to be very good, in fact. Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, he was one of the few mainstream commentators willing to provide a sustained and comprehensive criticism of the New Labour project and of Blairism, as it went on to become known. At a time when most negative coverage of New Labour began and ended at a predictable discussion of ‘Spin’ and when most of the progressive media were still in love with the golden-boy who defeated the Tory Goliath, Cohen’s articles in the New Statesman, the Observer and elsewhere were must-read pieces dealing with corruption, links to big business and the reality and the detail of the neo-liberal policies being promoted by the newly installed government. Cruel Britannia and Pretty Straight Guys are still well worth getting a hold of, to see what good political journalism looks like.

Okay, now that the niceties are out of the way, and I’ve had my ‘throat-clearing moment’, he’s really gone nuts lately. As one of the most prominent ‘muscular liberals’ (Cohen chaired the meeting which launched the Euston Manifesto) he’s been steadfast in both his support for the Iraq War and his continuing contempt for ‘the Left’.

To be sure, he made quite a convincing left-wing case for intervention in 2003, not just in terms of anti-totalitarianism (even Oliver Kamm could manage that!) but also pointing to the need for solidarity with the Iraqi trades union movement. If the international Labour movement meant anything, he argued, it must mean supporting those organisation in Iraq under the fist of an oppressive, quasi-fascist regime. And anyone who hates George Galloway as much as Cohen does can’t be all bad.

Unfortunately, his recent criticism of ‘the Left’ displays none of the hallmarks of accuracy and detail which characterised his earlier work. As his denunciations of collaboration with fascism become more and more shrill, as well as more and more general, he risks becoming less a latter-day Orwell and more a latter-day Horowitz.

His attack on ‘the Left’ is the theme of his long (if not eagerly) awaited book, What’s Left?: How liberals lost their way. Due to be published in early February, it appears to be in stock at Amazon right now. Lengthy extracts from it appear in today’s Observer, and are worth a look until the full thing is available.

It’s pretty predictable stuff, in many ways, rehashing the old points about those who opposed the war abandoning the Iraqi people to tyranny. Persuasive, if not original. And, to be fair, he’s a little more nuanced in his attack on the anti-war marchers, giving Ariel Dorfman (reluctantly anti-invasion) a say indicating that perhaps not everyone who opposed the intervention were fans of Saddam’s courage, strength and indefatigability and didn’t get a kick out of the massacre of Kurds.

Still, there’s very little self-analysis in the piece. The anti-war protestors were still wrong, still objectively supporting fascism and the pro-interventionists were … well, Cohen doesn’t really get into whether they were right or not, just that they had the best of intentions. As I pointed out previously, this is a rather sneaky trick: ignoring the consequences of an action and focusing only on your own intentions, while attributing the basest of intentions to your opponents (e.g. supporting Ba’athism) based on the perceived consequence of their views being implemented.

I don’t intend to get into a sustained piece on Cohen right now. I’m interested in what his wider points about ‘the Left’ might be, so I’ll wait until the book arrives. One point raised in the extract today did, however, shock me and I can’t let it go unacknowledged. In describing the anti-war marches across Europe of March 2003 he writes:

On 15 February 2003, about a million liberal-minded people marched through London to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime. It was the biggest protest in British history, but it was dwarfed by the march to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime in Mussolini’s old capital of Rome, where about three million Italians joined what the Guinness Book of Records said was the largest anti-war rally ever. In Madrid, about 650,000 marched to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime in the biggest demonstration in Spain since the death of General Franco in 1975. In Berlin, the call to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime brought demonstrators from 300 German towns and cities, some of them old enough to remember when Adolf Hitler ruled from the Reich Chancellery. In Greece, where the previous generation had overthrown a military junta, the police had to fire tear gas at leftists who were so angry at the prospect of a fascist regime being overthrown that they armed themselves with petrol bombs.

The French protests against the overthrow of a fascist regime went off without trouble. Between 100,000 and 200,000 French demonstrators stayed peaceful as they rallied in the Place de la Bastille, where in 1789 Parisian revolutionaries had stormed the dungeons of Louis XVI in the name of the universal rights of man.

In Ireland, Sinn Fein was in charge of the protests and produced the most remarkable spectacle of a remarkable day: a peace movement led by the IRA.

It’s not often one does a double-take when reading something in the paper but … what????

In Ireland, Sinn Fein was in charge of the protests and produced the most remarkable spectacle of a remarkable day: a peace movement led by the IRA.

I’m certainly no fan of Sinn Féin, or of the IRA, or of the mysterious but ubiquitous Sinn Féin/IRA, but anyone with the least grasp of the facts about the anti-war movement(s) in Ireland would know that that is simply not the case. Certainly Sinn Féin were involved with that march, as was virtually every other left-wing organisation in the country, including the Labour Party. Even Bertie Ahern got on the bandwagon, welcoming the march as an endorsement of government policy on the proposed invasion (a moment of such incredible brass neck that you couldn’t but admire it). If anyone could have been said to have ‘led’ the anti-war movement, I guess it would have been the SWP but only insofar as Richard Boyd Barrett was treated as a spokesperson for the marchers. The truth was that it was a broad-based movement which achieved something pretty spectacular that day, but which has fallen into some disarray and acrimony since then (as is inevitable with anything touched by the SWP).

Why then does Cohen get it so incredibly, startlingly wrong? It’s not the first time he’s come out with this kind of nonsense about SF. In a column of his from last May he compared the electoral successes of the British National Party with those of SF, suggesting that he knows absolutely about the politics of SF, the differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic and the reasons why people vote for that party.

One wonders where Cohen’s rather warped and uninformed opinion stems from. I can’t help but think that it might be influenced to some extent by Gary Kent. Kent is the director of Labour Friends of Iraq and, with Cohen, was one of the leading lights behind the Euston Manifesto. Not only that, but he was also a prominent British member of the Peace Train organisation. While the explicit objectives of that group might have been hard to disagree with, I always found that their view of ‘terrorism’ was a little skewed. It was a little hard to stomach watching them protest outside Sinn Féin meetings, while enjoying a far more harmonious relationship David Ervine (every self-respecting liberal’s favourite former paramilitary) and the Progressive Unionist Party.

Incidentally, there’s an interview with Kent on Little Atoms here, where he draws some rather tenuous parallels between the situation in Iraq and Northern Ireland, as well as having a rather exaggerated view of the achievements of the ‘Peace Movement’.

I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories, and start suggesting links between people which don’t exist. But while I mightn’t agree with much of Cohen’s analysis I’m staggered at such an incredible factual inaccuracy in the piece and can’t help but wonder where it came from. And hope that it’s not indicative of the rest of the book.

The link between UFOs and 9/11: Conspiracy Theories, pseudo-science and the need to believe. January 20, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11, Culture, Pseudo-Science, Television Shows, Terrorism, United States, US Media, US Politics.

Following recent threads on Politics.ie it’s struck me that in a way the conspiracy theory has managed to slide effortlessly into the spot held by UFO’s throughout the 1990s. Actually it goes a bit deeper than that. The two are so closely entwined that while not entirely the same they remain very very similar indeed.Now, first off I have to declare yet again my love of and absolute lack of belief in all things pseudoscientific. I’ve already referenced some of the more interesting pseudoscientific beliefs but they’re dying in the face of different belief systems.

I spent the 1990s hugely entertained by the X-Files (although most of the monster and horror episodes were fairly silly), Dark Skies (a lost classic – sort of) and various other cheap knock offs. The idea that there was a global conspiracy to suppress information about contact with aliens is on the one hand extremely intriguing. On the other. let’s be honest here, it’s a pile of rubbish. Those sort of secrets simply couldn’t be kept across decades let alone over half a century.

But the concept of the government as this arbiter between the uncanny and the mundane, that in some ways it was corrupted has of course fueled probably hundreds of thousands of earnest student theses since the time of Watergate (leaving out the uncanny bit needless to say). And what could be more corrupted than human alien hybrid experimentation? Overseen by the government. A government that would stop at nothing to implement it’s own New World Order. That for the selfish motivation of it’s members (politicians and civil servants) would seek to create deals with forces that sought to carry out unspeakable acts upon the human race.

Actually, back in the day, and initially, the X-Files really annoyed me. No, it wasn’t the Canadian locations pretending to be the US (series 2 onwards if I recall correctly), or the pathos of the Sully Mulder on-off relationship (even the names sound dated at this remove). But instead it was the conspiracies themselves. In a way I thought at the time, and even argued with people about it, that it fed into an anti-statist, militia type mentality. I think the truth is that it reflected that mentality rather than engendering it. On the other hand it also placed the mythos of the Greys front and centre in our culture.

These days I’m somewhat more relaxed about such things. And indeed it’s telling that the more recent incarnations of X-Files wannabe’s, such as the truly execrable Threshold, have portrayed a remarkably different relationship between the US government and those organisations attempting to combat alien incursions (indeed there’s an argument that TV such as 24 – and probably West Wing – has in some respects rehabilitated the idea of US President as noble character, consider the life of David Palmer or Jed Bartlett).

But the idea took root, or extended, a sort of rightist alienation from the state in the early 1990s merging with leftist disaffection from the military industrial complex towards the latter part of that decade and broadening again under Bush in a perfect storm of disbelief at everything we’re told. Trust no one. Fight the future. What’s not to like?

And it’s remarkably telling that sighting of UFOs have declined precipitously since the 1990s. An interesting article in the Guardian from 2005 talks of a massive drop in sightings and the closure of UFO related magazines and groups . Why wouldn’t they? The reality of an Al-Queda willing to bomb randomly and with no regard for civilian casualties is at least as chilling as the idea that the Greys are going to alight on your roof and using their advanced technological prowess (otherwise known as magic) somehow dope you and carry you bodily through walls and ceilings to their spaceship where they will bypass all electronic and non-invasive medical examination methods in favour of curiously shaped probes.

But as one belief system crashes another rises from it’s ashes phoenix-like to reclaim that particular territory of the human psyche.

And what have we got instead? A broad confluence of beliefs that centre on the idea that 9/11 was in some sense a great lie, a sort of souped up border incident for the early 21st century where either the US military industrial complex, or the neo-cons, or the Zionist lobby, or whoever – delete as applicable – decided that a surprise attack on the US would be the perfect cover or excuse to sell more arms, invade Iraq, support Israel or whatever.

Of course logically one could ask as per any of those end goals, surely lesser means would have resulted in similar ends? But, hold on, it’s not so simple. It’s not that the planes were necessarily not hijacked, according to the disbelievers, although they think they probably weren’t. It’s that charges were placed in the WTC in order to collapse it (Incidentally, I once worked in a sneakers store in the basement shopping plaza under the WTC, way back when in 1989. The idea that charges could be placed in the towers themselves, knowing the security that was in place at that time – even prior to the early 1990s bombing – is simply laughable. The idea that it could have been done unnoticed utterly so).

Call me small minded and unimaginative. But for my money the images of the aircraft hitting the towers were quite sufficient. I didn’t think at that point in time that they’d fall, but then I didn’t think much of anything at all on September 11. If they hadn’t fallen, if the flames had simply consumed the floors above the impact sites I think that alone would have been a remarkable and chilling image. Perhaps more so, with the smouldering wreckage still barely standing, than the great physical and conceptual abyss that was Ground Zero.

And here’s the thing. In a way the suspension of critical faculties involved in 9/11 conspiracy theories is even greater than that with UFOs. After all, it’s one thing to say “I saw a shining light above Old Man Potters Barn”, but it’s a completely different class of self-delusion to say “I, and thousands of others on the spot, saw two aircraft impact the Twin Towers in rapid succession but I don’t believe that’s what brought the buildings down, actually it was shaped charges placed throughout the two buildings by the US military industrial complex/the neo-cons/the Zionist lobby”.

The beauty of this is that the arguments can rage beyond the purview of anything so dull as expert opinion. The logical thought that if the collapse of the Twin Towers is so damn odd why aren’t engineers across the world up in arms about it is met by the proposition that only some are in on the truth, or the cover-up is global (and for those who are really interested in such things the debates about whether the towers fell at freefall or not is a good place to start – I commend you to the ever excellent James Randi’s site).

But let’s not get too exercised about this (although somehow there is something a lot more distasteful about the sort of almost prurient self-regard of those who propound these ‘theories’ as against those who were proponents of UFOlogy, at least to my mind). Some people want to believe that? Let them. It’s the times we live in. In some ways, bizarrely, perhaps for some people it’s more comforting to think that the US would do this than networks of Islamists. Perhaps it’s always more comforting to engage in a sort of mental displacement activity where one continually slides away from engagement with the grim reality behind an event in favour of a more esoteric explanation.

Lights in the skies? UFO’s rather than airliners. Missing time? Greys about their unfathomable business rather than tiredness or boredom. WTC collapses? A malign US government that most of the time at least does what one expects rather than a tiny tiny group of individuals willing to wreak mass destruction for politico-religious ends which most of us have little understanding of or interest in.

Now, tell me again which of these is really scary.

Well… I guess it’s an idea: or Magill, and the concept of Revolutionary Unionism. January 18, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Progressive Unionist Party, Ulster, Unionism.

Reading the December/January issue of Magill (the site is a month or so out of date) was quite an experience. First up was the editorial by Eamon Delaney which calmost constituted a point by point riposte to smiffy’s recent piece about the quality of Magill (not that we’re so self-important round these parts that we think he’s ever read us). Delaney gave a staunch defence of the magazine listing the various areas covered in the current issue lauded as a ‘reinvention’ and ‘a vibrant use of graphics, illustrations and photography’ (useful if you intend to publish a text based pictorial magazine, one would think), these including the ‘political front…foreign stories…cultural content’ and so forth (again, of some worth if that magazine covers current affairs). In fairness it is a better issue than the previous one. One of the strong points according to Delaney is the ability ‘to keep the mix varied and lively and not appear predictable’. True, very true. But if one is looking for any real divergence from it’s centre right course one will be, perhaps predictably, disappointed.

Anyhow, enough damning with faint praise, I buy it every issue, and little publicity is bad publicity, so everyone is happy – eh?

Ah yes, consider an article nestled between the covers by Dr. John Coulter, political journalist for the Irish Daily Star. In it we get a brisk run through the Unionist thinking on the St. Andrews Agreement and after. Coulter thinks that Sinn Féin might by delaying it’s response to the policing issue deliver a ‘double whammy’ on the DUP by boosting dissident anti-power sharing Unionists and ultimately forcing Paisley into powersharing.

Later on in the article some good points are raised. Because Coulter notes something which isn’t often examined in the Good Friday Agreement process, the impact of operational North South bodies on the Unionist community. He appears to think this will have a fractious effect upon the various strands of Unionism, but particularly on DUP support.

However, it’s after this that things get…well different. Coulter spins off into the necessity for Unionism to consider an all-Ireland dimension, particularly if the GFA collapses and Dublin and London implement Plan B. He proposes that Unionist parties will in that context be irrelevant. Or alternatively if the GFA prospers the all-island dimension will negate Unionism.

He posits that something he terms Revolutionary Unionism (named after the Glorious Revolution) should step forward. This would see a 32 county dimension for Unionism, one that would push for rejoining the Commonwealth, withdrawal from the EU or as he puts it ‘Unionism needs to start believing in the concept of the Occupied Twenty-Six Counties, and begin the process of feeding the rapidly expanding Southern Irish middle class the reality their future lies in rejoining the British Commonwealth of nations’. This idea, which he has been hawking around the most unlikely points on the net for some time now (including the free market Open Republic and the vaguely dissident Republican Blanket), includes the concept (that he uses on the Open Republic site): “On the religious front, the ‘one faith’ concept seeks to unite the various Protestant denominations under a single Biblical foundation as espoused by the New Testament text St John Chapter 3, verse 16, commonly known as the Salvationist principle. Given the growth of the evangelical movement within modern Irish Catholicism, Revolutionary Unionism could have a strong appeal to Catholic voters because of its Scriptural stance on opposition to radical Islam, civil partnerships, divorce and abortion”.


He advocates the establishment of a Unionist ‘Embassy’ in Dublin. Not a particularly bad idea as such, and certainly one which by it’s own ideological lights makes sense for the projection of a Unionist identity.

He also notes, at least on the Open Republic site, being perhaps a tad more reticent on the Blanket, that “Given the increasing European federalism, Ireland as a geographical entity, could find itself well and truly on the fringes of the planned United States of Europe. The real danger is that the whole British Isles, but especially Ireland north and south, would become an ethnic dumping ground for vast legions of unskilled migrants or asylum seekers who want to take advantage of their nations’ new-found membership of the European Union, but who cannot find work or will not be admitted into the EU’s so-called ‘super nations’ of France and Germany. A United British Isles may well have to seriously consider the option of leaving the EU and form an independent economic global block based on the British Commonwealth.” On the Blanket we are treated to the idea with a different spin ‘Revolutionary Unionism would take the British islands – including Ireland – out of the EU and into the global economic security of the Commonwealth’. Hmmm… yes, those balmy climes of the economic security. A further justification for this economic act of self-immolation is that ‘Many Southern Catholics and Northern Prods could be attracted to a pro-Commonwealth Unionist movement – driven by an evangelical radical Presbyterianism – which guaranteed their middle class lifestyles would not be threatened by the ever expanding European Union’.


In Magill this is somewhat massaged into a more emollient, but no less striking, analysis which warns of a new set of Troubles as ‘Christianity goes head-to-head with the growing ethcnic communities and Islam in particular. Given the rise in racially motivated crime, it is only a matter of time before the ghost of former neo-fascist (neo? Surely some mistake) boss, General Eoin O’Duffy of the Blueshirts returns in the form of a populist party or candidate campaigning against migrant workers, asylum seekers and Islamist radicals living in Ireland”.

Okay squared.

Gloomy stuff, but what on earth does it all mean? On Slugger O’Toole his writings have been likened to Conor Cruise O’Brien, well, C O’C at his most eschatological, and there’s more than a hint of that there. But it’s strange stuff.

Not so much the idea that an all-island Unionist identity is such a bizarre notion, although one it is difficult to see sustaining itself in the manner he proposes. But more the strange lack of empirical evidence for any such ‘Revolutionary Unionism’. If one uses that universal “find an ideology” Google one will see nowt about it. Consult learned tomes on the subject of Unionism and one will find nothing. Perhaps it’s about to manifest itself, but so far nothing. Perhaps it’s so new, despite it’s intellectual origins that it’s springing up all over. Or perhaps, just perhaps, and I know I’m going out on a limb here, this is a very very recent invention…

Then there is the curious slide into the apocalypse regarding what appears to be warnings about an incipient race war on the island. And what exactly is the prescription to solve this problem? An evangelical Unionist party dedicated to removing the RoI from the EU? One could reasonably ask whether the cure would be any better than the disease.

But worst of all is the way in which at various points previous progressive, or reasonably progressive, Unionist incarnations, from Norman Porter’s civic unionism to the ‘new’ unionism of David Trimble are dismissed. Worst of all because in the absence of any vehicle within which Revolutionary Unionism can be driven forward all this is simply rhetoric.

Entertaining rhetoric, sure, but rhetoric nonetheless…

Harney beware. The nurses are coming January 17, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Fianna Fáil, Greens, Health, Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, Medical Issues, Progressive Democrats, Sinn Féin, Trade Unions.

Last Monday’s Questions and Answers was unusual for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I watched it, having been lured away many moons ago by the higher standard of political discussion on The Panel, and Podge and Rodge. But what was also a little puzzling was what was not discussed during a debate on health issues.

Minister Harney, Sinn Féin’s Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD and Dr Orla Hardiman of the newly founded Doctor’s Alliance went around the houses on the issue for some time. Harney chose to blame the problems in the health crisis on consultants and, basically, anyone but her, in the standard PD habit of blaming someone else. McDowell and the judiciary for gangland crime is another example.

What interested me the most was no-one said a word about the nurses. For the month of January the Irish Nursing Organisation and the Psychiatric Nurses Association have been holding regional meetings of their members while balloting for industrial action. Reports that found their way to the Little household indicate packed meetings with standing room only and a very, very militant attitude.

And they have much to be militant about. It is over 25 years since the Labour Court said nurses and midwives should be the first to benefit from a reduction in the working week. Yet they are the only health professionals to work a 39 hour week today, everyone else at what no doubt IBEC would see as a slothful 35. They are also the lowest paid of all graduate health professionals, to such a degree that 70%, almost three in four, nurses and midwives have left the country within 18 months of graduating.

As well as industrial balloting, members at these meetings are being given powerpoint presentations outlining their demands, and the arguments in favour, and instructed to besiege all candidates and elected representatives in their clinics until further notice. The INO/PNA leaderships have also met with all the parties except the Greens and Labour curiously enough, though I suspect scheduling differences other than Labour not taking the nurses seriously. That said, the Shinners were the first to meet them. Eyes firmly on the ball it seems.

The core of the nurses’ demands is the reduction in the working week, a 10% increase in pay with a cost of living increase of 3%. These increases would bring them in line with other personnel working in the healthcare sector and address a number of pay anomalies. In comparison to other workers for example, a nurse earns 7,000 Euros per annum less than a play therapist on graduation. Social Care Workers, who in many cases have to report to nurses, earn 3,000 euro per annum more than the nurses, and although the gap narrows after the sixth pay increment, always earn more.

The 3% cost of living increase, by the way, is due to the nurses under the new Towards 2016 pay agreement but the HSE before Christmas embarked on a campaign of trade union intimidation, circulating a form asking workers to identify what union, if any, they are a member of and threatening to refuse the increase to INO or PNA members. William martin Murphy’s play book has been dusted off in the HSE bunker it seems.

At this point, with the Health Service Executive sticking to it’s guns if they’re set on pursuing this union intimidation tactic, a massive vote in favour of industrial action by the 40,000 workers affected is likely to be announced at the start of February. This will authorise limited forms of strike action, lunchtime protests, work to rule etc. As Liam Doran of the INO has said, “The strategy will be to maximise pressure on management while minimising the impact on patients and members.”

And then it might get interesting for Harney. The nurses are one of the very few groups of workers Irish society is sympathetic to. If anyone else goes on strike, especially transport workers or taxi drivers, they are lucky not to be run over by Liveline inspired Fianna Fáil voters trying to stamp out the Red Menace. But nurses, and to a lesser extent firefighters and teachers, get a pass. Anyone who has listened to people complaining about the health service on radio or television often hears the complainant signal the nurses out for praise. Nurses are, rightly, not held responsible for the failures of the health service.

In other words, industrial action by the nurses less than four months before a general election, especially when linked to the problems in the health service, has the potential to receive massive public support and do serious damage to Harney. The nurses are refusing to go through Benchmarking, so if the Government backs down, they undermine Benchmarking and, to a lesser extent, Towards 2016. If they hold firm, it will be Mary Harney versus the nurses. If I was her, I wouldn’t have wanted it mentioned on Q&A either.

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