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The Left Archive: “The Irish People” from Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party, 1981 February 18, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Workers' Party.
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Allow me a nostalgic moment this week, for here, in all its glowing somewhat maroon marooness (check out the masthead – never quite red in colour), is “The Irish People”, from Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party from 1981. This, the ultimate successor of the United Irishman was to become the document probably most widely distributed by the SFWP/WP over the years, and certainly the one most widely recognisable to pub goers across Dublin and other centres around the country.

For it was there that my earliest political activity was concentrated having joined the party only a couple or so years later. Is there any more humbling experience than carrying bags worth of political papers around pubs and housing estates on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and hoping against experience that a friends father will buy one from pity or exasperation? The Provo’s had, frankly, a vastly more organised way of selling An Phoblacht/Republican News and on more than one occasion I encountered groups in semi-military regalia in various pubs in the inner city. That seemed to die away in the late 1980s, early 1990s.

And let’s not underestimate the way in which the paper becomes in some ways the signifier of political activism for many a left party. Having said that the WP was a bit more ambitious than many and – more importantly – a lot more cohesive and even at this point had elected councillors and such like to provide at least some semblance of political activity in a different forum.

As to the document itself, well, it’s as one might expect. Nuts and bolts socialism with an eye on NATO. That a fairly similar piece appeared five years later is neither here nor there. I have to smile at the picture of Pat McCartan, now Judge McCartan, on page 2. And note how the party identification is not played up. No form here to inveigle the unwary into the joys of Marxist-Leninism. No trumpeting the inevitable collapse of capitalism and the vanguard position of SFWP. Instead a diet of mundane, but entirely truthful stories about life in Ireland in 1981 with a sort of internationalism – note the story on page 4 about Fine Gael links with the junta in El Salvador. As to the North? Well, not a whisper. Perhaps the party recognised just how little that played south of the border…

It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it, that in all probability many many issues of the IP were printed over the years, and yet as it happens I never kept one, and I’ll bet most other members or former members of the WP didn’t either. It’s remarkable how ephemeral all this material is. Printed on low grade, slightly transparent paper, the inks and photographic reproduction muddy and uneven. It’s a seemingly fragile container for a sort of kind of revolutionary message.

Still, it must have worked on some level, maroon or not, to judge from the increasing vote the party got. And maybe in its own way was actually more sophisticated than on first view.

Comments»

1. Justin - February 18, 2008

“As to the North? Well, not a whisper. Perhaps the party recognised just how little that played south of the border…”

Of course, in the north there was The Northern People,which, as I understand it, had its own editor. Nowadays Look Left covers north and south.

“Is there any more humbling experience than carrying bags worth of political papers around pubs and housing estates on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and hoping against experience that a friends father will buy one from pity or exasperation?”

My own ‘patch’ for the Northern People was a couple of housing estates in a small town in South Down. The paper was generally well received and there was a list of punters who took it regularly.

I used to go out with it on Thursday nights, as I recall. After Top of the Pops.

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2. Redking - February 18, 2008

“Is there any more humbling experience than carrying bags worth of political papers around pubs and housing estates on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and hoping against experience that a friends father will buy one from pity or exasperation?”

I feel your pain WBS!

And what to do with the “left-over” copies of the “organ”?

Alexei Sayle once joked that he had trouble sleeping as there were 20,000 unsold copies of the Morning Star under his bed….

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3. Joe - February 18, 2008

And what to do with the “left-over” copies of the “organ”?

“Light the fire with them” was the suggestion of a comrade in Dublin Nth East. To which the answer was “I’ve tried that, they won’t fookin burn.”

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4. Ed Hayes - February 18, 2008

About bumping into SF selling AP/RN, I remember at one stage in the mid 80s pub runs on Dorset St and the city centre where SWM, WP, SF and on a rare occasion CPI-ML sellers would be hitting pubs at roughly the same time. There was an occasional drinker who bought one of everything. There were many who bought none and some who I suspect bought the wrong paper for the wrong reasons. I always needed to have a pint myself before I faced the crowds, weaving around handbags and out-streched legs, jabbing elbows, smoke everywhere, roaring to be heard over the noise, most of the time drunks shouting friendly or abusive shite that you could bearly hear at you, an occasional narky alco or worse pissed off hard-man who decided that you didn’t look like the type of paper seller whose group had an armed wing and decided to offer you a fight. No thanks.
Two hours at the GPO on a Saturday was a pleasure compared to that, as was any amount of Tube entrances in London. Was I happy when I heard that the SWP did not do pub sales.

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5. WorldbyStorm - February 18, 2008

Yeah, that’s true Ed. And then there were poetry sellers too. God, I was doing paper rounds at 12 or 1 on a Sunday or Saturday. Not allowed to get a pint then! Way too early.

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6. WorldbyStorm - February 18, 2008

That’s also true Justin. I don’t suppose you’ve got a copy of the Northern People? Redking, it was pain!!! As for their inflammability, well, I guess it was in the text Joe… sometimes 🙂

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7. Pete - February 19, 2008

If my memory serves me correctly the editor of the Northern People was none other than Liam Clarke while the Irish People, at least to start with was edited by Padriag Yeates. Bit better cast of the characters the sticks than some of the other paper pushing outfits

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8. WorldbyStorm - February 19, 2008

Was it Clarke? I think you’re right about Yates.

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9. Justin - February 19, 2008

“That’s also true Justin. I don’t suppose you’ve got a copy of the Northern People? ”

I think I might have a few but being computer illiterate I wouldn’t know how to scan them. If you can help me with thechnological side of things, I’d be delighted to pass them on to you. I’ve also got some Making Sense a few Workers’ Life and some B&ICO stuff. I might keep the BICO stuff to burn if this cold snap continues. Highly combustible.

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10. Garibaldy - February 19, 2008

I think WBS’ point about the north and the absence of theoretical discussion raises the point of how best to further class consciousness. It seems to me that part of the proeblem many far left groups have is that they engage in massive diatribes over irrelevant issues that no-one with any sense would waste their time reading. Whereas highlighting evictions etc in your local area has the potential to be more effective at relating broader socialist principles to actual events. So I can understand the decision to put out a campaigning paper like this. Clarke did edit the Northern People for a while, but I don’t know if he was still doing it at this stage.

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11. John O'Neill - February 19, 2008

Garabaldi – can you give us some examples? If by far left you mean the SWP or SP I think you will find that they have moved away from that type of journalism. Both their papers now seem to be firmly grounded in issues that concern the working class.

I sold many an IP in my time and to be honest I always thought there was never the space in it to really tackle a complex issue and often it ran stories with WP reps pointing at cracked toilets in local authority houses that got a little repetitious.

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12. Garibaldy - February 19, 2008

Things like the weekly worker still do it, as do the publications of other small groups. I read these things on the net rather than in paper, so maybe I see more of the polemical stuff. This tendency was portrayed brilliantly on splintered recently with the post of the arguments over the big bang theory.

The toilet pointing stories were also repetitive in the Northern People. But the eviction things in this issue I’d have thought were of a different order, especially given Ireland’s history.

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13. WorldbyStorm - February 19, 2008

Justin, I’d be very interested in a copy of the Northern People. Email me at worldbystorm@eircom.net

John, I know precisely what you mean about the mix, and yet, I can’t help feeling at that point in time (I’m talking about the 1980s) it was just about right.

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14. Mark P - February 19, 2008

What exactly is “Look Left”? Is it a Workers Party newspaper or magazine? If so, where is it sold?

John is right that neither of the far left publications you might actually be offered the chance to buy as a random punter in Ireland – The Socialist and Socialist Worker – go in much for abstract theoretical articles or detailed inter-left polemics. Neither do the free papers distributed by left groups – Fingal Socialist, Workers Solidarity or whatever the ISN freesheet is called.

If you want that sort of thing you’d actually have to go looking for the Sparts or the secondary publications some of the other groups put out. The Socialist Party and WSM have magazines that do carry lengthy more abstract political articles and the SWP occasionally launch one (although it never seems to last more than a few issues), but these aren’t really intended to be the public face of the organisation concerned. Back before Socialist Democracy gave up on print publications their magazine was fairly Spartoid in its approach.

Britain, with its larger far left, has a glut of Spartoid groups and, because of the internet, it’s as easy to find them from here as it is to find their versions Socialist Worker or The Socialist, but it’s the latter two you might conceivably see on sale outside your tube station. That said I did buy a copy of the (truly mad) Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism in the centre of Liverpool.

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15. dilettante - February 19, 2008

To be perfectly honest, in all my (considerable amount of) time spent in pubs in Dublin North East and in the city centre about that time I don’t recall ever once having been offered a copy of the IP. (I did pick up a copy from time to time on a demo.)
I remember refusing to buy a “sticky” lily in a pub once.
But an IP seller (selling IPs) in a pub? That’s a new one on me.

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16. Garibaldy - February 19, 2008

I chose far left deliberately rather than ultra left because I was referring to organisations outside the Trotskyist tradition as well as within it. And I was not just referring to Ireland, but the left more generally internationally in its attempts to engage people with its arguments. Look Left is a WP production that is distributed/sold in most of the major cities and in some of the smaller towns and rural areas.

More significantly, the role of the political newspaper is not what it once was, and I don’t think the left – of all stamps and in lots of countries – has properly adjusted yet. Not that I’m sure how it should.

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17. WorldbyStorm - February 19, 2008

dilettante, were you ever in the Foxhound, the Cedars, the Manhatten (as was), the Green Dolphin, or indeed that other pub in Raheny village. I was, every bloody weekend lunchtime… 🙂 I agree though that in the North inner city there was no WP presence to speak of. I’ve often thought that Gregory’s crew would have swept up those likely to join…

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18. Mark P - February 19, 2008

Garibaldy: I doubt if anyone on the Irish left would accept the tag, ultra-left. As for organisations outside the Trotskyist tradition, I’m not sure what ones you would accuse of “engaging in massive diatribes over irrelevant issues that no-one with any sense would waste their time reading.”

This is not meant as a gibe here, but where exactly is Look Left sold? It isn’t sold in pubs or on street stalls and I’ve never seen it on a demonstration in Dublin. Is it a paper or a magazine?

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19. Garibaldy - February 19, 2008

Closer to a magazine in look but a newspaper in content. Don’t know about Dublin for sales, but sold in Belfast in Queen’s Bookshop and elsewhere.

Some of the Maoist groups have form here, remembering that it was intended as a not Ireland specific comment.

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20. dilettante - February 19, 2008

WBS, I’ve been in them all, and in the pubs around Coolock and Donaghmede as well. Not a whisper.
In all fairness though, it was rare enough I was in the pub in them parts on the weekend lunchtime .
But if they were the places you were targetting at weekend lunchtimes you really should have sorted out a good racing page 🙂

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21. Garibaldy - February 20, 2008

The WP does indeed maintain a punters’ wing. Maybe that can be incorporated into the next LL.

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22. John - February 20, 2008

dilettante. I think that the Morning Star tried that tactic and in the process lost ‘thousands’ of potential revolutionary punters. If i recall correctly there wasnt one winner picked over the course of a couple of decades. (maybe exagerating-but not too widely). I stand to be corrected.

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23. Peter Daly - February 20, 2008

In Cork in the pubs I remember AP/RN, Saoirse, Militant (occasionally), Marxist-Leninist Weekly (the CPI(ML) magazine) and the IP – specially up around the North Side from Jimmy Homan.

Sometimes all of these on the one night.

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24. WorldbyStorm - February 20, 2008

dilettante, actually a great point. I remember trudging off to an Ard Fhéis in the mid 1980s and my father asked were de Rossa and the rest going to be there. I said yes, and he shook his head and said didn’t they realise Dublin was playing at Croke Park that afternoon. Important, is it not, to not have a disconnect with life as it is actually lived – which I guess is a good justification for the kitchen sink approach of the IP.

Peter, that sounds like it could be an expensive night out!

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25. Joe - February 20, 2008

I was selling the IP with you on some of those days too WBS. Important to note that the WP also at the time did a lot of door-to-door street sales wherever they were strong. A far better approach than pub sales in my view.

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26. Peter Daly - February 20, 2008

btw I cannot save the .pdf

Downloaded it twice….each time it says ‘bad file’!

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27. mickhall - February 20, 2008

Not covering the north in the early 1980s, mmm, sounds like a political decision centered around not supporting the blanket protest etc. From that period I still feel AP/RP was the best paper around.

By the way does anyone have the answer to just why the left [UK/Ireland has never been able to produce a half decent paper. I often wonder if the tankies had not won the battle to control the Morning Star, whether the Euros around Martin Jacques may have been able to turn that paper round.

At the time the Star had the means to keep a float, so I feel it was a mistake not to give the Euro a chance, even though I disagreed with much of their politics, a real lost opportunity as being the mouth piece of TU bureaucrats was never going to build the paper.

The other lost opportunity was when the Healyites got the cash to turn the Workers Press into a daily, they had some good journalists on board, Peter Fryer, Alex Mitchell and Charley Pottins amongst them, how these people allowed Healy to turn the paper into an outlet for his paranoid ranting speaks volumes about the absurdity of democratic centralism.

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28. Garibaldy - February 20, 2008

I’d be fairly sure there’d have been regular coverage of the north in the Irish People in the early 80s, but I’d say not shoehorning it in for the sake of it was a sensible thing. The United Irishman of when the IRA ceasefire was announced in May 1972 was much more about opposing joining the EEC than it was about the ceasefire. In that sense the presence of a paper concentrating on social and economic stuggles on the ground was perfectly within the framework anticipated by the political development begun in the 1960s. The Northern People continued at this point to cover violence against working people from all sources.

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29. Pete - February 20, 2008

There was very little coverage of the North. But then again everything in the world didn’t revolve around a few guys wiping shite on walls and not wearing shirts, or did it?

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30. Peter Daly - February 21, 2008

fu**ing sticky c**t

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31. John O'Neill - February 22, 2008

“or whatever the ISN freesheet is called.”

It’s called “Resistance”, now whats the SP paper called? “Socialist Voice” or is that the CPI’s? BTW Mark how much does the “Fingal Socialist” cost?

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32. Cruibín - July 23, 2008

There was a Cork edition of the Irish People too. I think around 3,000 copies were sold every week at it’s peak.

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33. WorldbyStorm - July 23, 2008

I never knew that Cruibín…

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34. Garibaldy - July 23, 2008

Me neither. Wonder who edited it.

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35. Looking Left, No.1: The Irish People « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - May 26, 2009

[…] We also have a downloadable copy in the Archive… […]

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36. Peadar - June 25, 2009

Wondering if any one has any back catalogues of “Irish People”, “United Irishman” etc. where the Workers Party people who are now in Labour, spoke out against joining the EU(Common Market) or ratification of the Single European Act?

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37. WorldbyStorm - June 25, 2009

I’ve a number from 1972 and even a couple from 73 of the UI, but I don’t think any of the head honcho’s spoke then. Not sure about the SEA. You could look at the Oireachtas website to see what the thinking was on the part of elected reps then…

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38. Maddog Wilson - June 26, 2009

Peadar

I had all copies of the UI from september 1971 to it’s demise in 1980( I think) and it’s replacement by Workers Life. It was a terrible step backwards in my opinion, i note Mick Ryan had the same view. I had a few Irish People’s; but i am not really sure what happened to them. I remember getting rid of the UI’S and feeling quite sad, but this was before the internet and anything like CLR.

On the Single European Act, from memory the Workers Party was opposed, but i think someone needs to confirm that(garibaldy?) Still hunting for that copy of the IIR, I know it’s there.

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39. WorldbyStorm - June 26, 2009

Yeah, the WP was opposed IIRC. I know how you feel about the papers. I had tons of IPs back in the day – sure I sold them in Dublin North East, and yet I hadn’t one copy left when it came to the CLR. I’m kicking myself.

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40. Joe - June 26, 2009

Yeah, the WP was opposed to the Single European Act. I leafletted the local Dart Station with our TD, McCartan, one morning. I was passionately opposed to it. He was just going through the motions. I’m pretty sure De Rossa would have spoken out clearly against it.
I remember being flabbergasted to hear that the Democratic Socialist Party were in favour. Their line being that Ireland could only benefit from the progressive norms of European social democracy, I think. I can see where they were coming from now. I voted No to Lisbon but only just. My vote next time is still in the balance though it’ll probably still be a No, safe in the knowledge that I’ll be back on the comfortable losing side once more.

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41. Colm B - June 26, 2009

Seeing as we’re all on a ‘Ah them were the days’ IP nostalgia trip I might as well add my tuppence worth.

During the late 1980s the sale of the IP was a major part of our activity in the WP in Dun Laoghaire. We started with pub sales, usually for some reason on a Sunday morning, but soon abandoned what was effectively providing an excuse for morning-after grumpy old men to have a go! Then we switched to door-to-door and I can honestly say this proved to be remarkably successful.
All the sales were carried out in council housing estates on a weekly basis by the same party members. I would reckon that there was hardly an council estate in the constituency that at some stage did not have a regular IP sale and the sales of the paper certainly reached into the hundreds at one point.
I’ll come back to the content of the IP but the main point with these weekly sales was that they provided a contact point between the party member and residents of an estate. Once the run had been established you went to the same doors every week. I know from my own experience from doing two runs, one in Sallynoggin and the other in Monkstown Farm that you quickly got to know the people who bought the IP. This had an impact in a number of ways. Some of these IP buyers became active supporters or even members of the party. They also transmitted information about local issues which allowed us to intiate campaigns or raise it at a council level. Perhaps most significant of all it meant that party members were visible in the estates on a regular basis, negating the natuiral complaint of voters that ‘we only see you at elections’. The end result was that it contributed in a major way to our electoral breakthrough in the area, where we had a TD and three council seats in 1991 the vast majority of our support coming from the same council estates where we had IP sales, although assidous clientalism and some campaigning work probably played an even greater role in our success.

Im only taking about the ‘technical’ advantages of this work and not its ideological ramifications. I would be very critical (and was at the time) of the failure to turn this activity towards campaigning rather than electoral advantage but thats another story.

As for the content of the IP, it was, IMO, a dreadful paper: it was just full of boringly written articles about local issues, entirely lacking in socialist analysis, which invariably centred on what Joesephine Bloggs local WP rep was doing or saying about the issue (I still have a cutting from the IP with myself pointing to some wheelie bins in the Mounttown Flats area…ah the stuff of revolutionary history). There were some general articles but these usually brief summaries of the WP position on national issues in dry ‘press-release’ style. From what Ive seen of earlier issues the standard was better at the beginning with much more solid stuff about campaigning etc. Now we could get into a long discussion about the nature of a left-wing newspaper aimed at the general public rather than ‘left-world’ but I think most people would agree there is a balance to be struck between the Tooting Popular Front style of ideological rants plus Long Live the Nepalese Revolution stories and dry localist tracts which make no serious attempt to integrate socialist ideas into the day to day material.

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42. Jim Monaghan - June 26, 2009

I rarely saw the IP but wasn’t Padraig Yeates the editor. I would have though that it would have been bright and readable with him as editor. I am told that Rachmann types were goping to take action against hime for exposing them.
In Dun Laoghaire now the same local activism is being done by Eoin O’Broin (SF) and Boyd Barrett (PBPor SWP). Will they become clientistic and glorifies social workers or something better?
The sheer gring of weekly sales etc. must alienate those who want to live a little, maybe have a personal life. This is the problem of all groups how to have members who are not doing 20 plus hours a week for the cause.

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43. Mark P - June 26, 2009

20 plus hours a week? Are you nuts, Jim? No present day left wing group requires anything like that kind of activity level from its members, week in week out.

Your question does remind me of something though. I recently picked up a glossy SWP recruitment leaflet, which was politically a bit bizarre. It consisted of a list of statements and the response that “If you agree, then you should join the socialists”. The problem being that you don’t have to actually be a socialist, let alone a Marxist, to agree with the propositions. But anyway, I’m getting off the point a bit, which was that the last part of the leaflet says the following:

But can I afford the time?

“It’s the question that many ask when they consider getting involved. And it’s no wonder, as we face hugely stressful lives. Socialists want to create a mass party where everyone makes whatever contribution they can. If that just means distributing a few leaflets to your friends or workmates, that is fine, Of if you want to help organise activity that is also fine.

You choose what level of involvement you want – but do get involved!”

On another note, I think that the Yeates period was considerably earlier in the history of the IP than the period Colm B is talking about. My understanding is that the quality of the paper had declined a fair bit by then.

Also, on the subject of clientelist activity in Dun Laoghaire, it’s interesting to note that Hugh Lewis (a likeable guy and a local, but essentially a stand in for Boyd Barrett) completely crushed Eoin O’Broin at the ballot box in Ballybrack. Some of you may recall a Phoenix profile of Boyd Barrett, seemingly written by a rather Provo partisan with a greater than average interest in the left. Amongst other tendentious points it implied that the more working class vote in Ballybrack would be more natural home for SF and O’Broin than for Boyd Barrett and his associates. I would guess that the Provisionals are bit less smug about such things now.

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