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Henry McDonald discovers ‘independent senator’ Eoghan Harris February 16, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics.

A very welcome guest post from EWI

A recession-themed blog post with Irish interest last Friday by Henry McDonald of the Observer:

“One of those calling for such a government is a member of Ireland’s second chamber, the Seanad, who has himself crisscrossed the old traditional divides of left/right republican/nationalist over the last four decades.

Eoghan Harris, an independent senator, has been a spin doctor and political adviser to an eclectic band of parties ranging from the hard-left Workers party all the way across to Fianna Fáil under Bertie Ahern.

In between, his media strategy helped elect Mary Robinson, the first female and liberal president of Ireland, back in 1991.

He even crossed the border to come to David Trimble’s aid when the then Ulster Unionist leader tried to sell the Good Friday agreement to a sceptical unionist electorate.

Harris argues that the republic’s present plight is akin to a nation at war and that, in wars, parties unite to form national coalitions.”

Now, there’s a number of problems with this remarkably modest account of the adventures of one Eoghan Harris over the past couple of decades – “crisscrossed the old traditional divides of left/right republican/nationalist” hardly does justice to someone who has bounced from hard-left Stalinist to hard-right Bush (and Adhmed Chalabi, and Likudite, and other lovely causes) supporter – and one might reasonably wonder at how an old comrade like McDonald can be unaware of the finer details of such a colourful career (or fail to mention their personal connection in the old Sinn Féin – The Workers Party). Indeed, an innocent reading for the first time of this particular Irish senator might form the opinion that here indeed is a Hibernian Gorbachev, an intellect untramelled by the constraints of ideology, ready to shed light on the truths which lesser mortals cannot see.

Mar dheá. A suspicious mind might find it odd that the good senator should happen upon this idea just as a poll appears this week predicting the catastrophic electoral demise of Fianna Fáil (to whom, incidentally, Harris owes his Senate perk). An idea, moreover, which would divorce the main opposition party from their prospective Labour coalition partners (and leftward influence) and instead hitch them into Government with a political party committed to the very same cult of the free-market that got us here – and, of course coincidentally, policies which facilitate the rescue of FF’s privileged friends and benefactors in Irish society, and which are responsible for their hammering in the polls. Our hypothetical innocent reader might wish to enquire further into the subject of McDonald’s hagiography, given such recent Harris-emanated senatorial pronouncements as:

“There was a lot of talk of fat cats but “every wealthy person in Ireland, Tony O’Reilly, the Smurfits, whoever you want to name, has seen their wealth cut by between 50 and 60 per cent”.

He was struck with absolute disbelief about the case being made for those in the public service.

“I cannot understand how in a world of Dell and the Waterford workers, people in permanent and pensionable employment have so little grasp of reality.””

“Sir” Tony O’Reilly, of course, is the tax-exile billionaire whose patronage (and employment) Harris has enjoyed for many years as a faithful attack dog in various forums, and the conversion of whose Irish media interests to a pro-Bertie stance before the last elections led to a grateful FF leader giving Harris the reward of a cushy seat in the upper house. And Harris using a reference to Waterford Glass – which O’Reilly himself owned and has now closed, putting all those workers out of employment – to beat the public sector with? Pure class.


1. CL - February 16, 2009

Harris is a ‘double-dipper’, receiving a Senate salary as well as a state pension.
Dig-out Bertie appointed Harris to the Senate where he has consistently attacked the working class and the public sector.
Harris is a leading propagandist for the crony golden gombeen circle which is a clear and present danger to Irish economic survival. Neither Harris nor the incompetent, corrupt oligarchy of bankers/’developers’ and Fianna Fail politicians that he speaks for have any legitimacy.
No recovery is possible while they hold power. They must be ousted.
Harris, a true authoritarian personality, is calling for police-state tactics to repress the developing protest movement. This shows his utter political bankruptcy and the desperation of the over-class he supports.


2. dessalines - February 16, 2009

isn’t it an incestuous little back-slapping menagerie of former stalinists in the media who make the irish print media so pathetically uninteresting and craven? macdonald is so thick and boring it its truly a wonder that the guardian pay him to write. or perhaps he donates his salary back. but really: such a nasty piece of work paid to toss shit against the walls… and look at their legacy at rte: with rare exceptions (i’m thinking some of mike millotte’s investigative stuff) it in no way reflects the deep anger across the country. henry is reduced to a ‘free state prk infeced our northern cows’ crap every now and then, plus a puff piece handed to him from unnamed security sources. what a racket! and what a sorry excuse for journalism.


3. Starkadder - February 16, 2009

Wasn’t MacDonald giving out to Harris for his anti-peace process
comments a few years ago? Things have changed…


4. Niall - February 16, 2009

So, we put Kevin Myres, John Waters and Eoghan Harris in a room together and lock the door for three days. Who survives?


5. Hugh Green - February 17, 2009

Harris’s latest Indo diatribe is a gem. He’s come over all revolutionary. Or counter-revolutionary: it’s hard to tell.

The second mistake in a revolutionary epoch is to look to the recent past — rather than the historic past — for precedents. In a structural crisis there are no precedents.

But if there are no precedents why bother looking to the ‘historic past’, whatever that is (apart from a tense in written French), for precedents?

Prove it by cutting politicians’ pay, then professional fees, then pay in the public sector — which should be flatly told that the worst public sector job is now safer than the best private sector job.

It will come as quite a consolation to the public sector worker on 27 grand a year with a mortgage that their wage cut is nothing compared to the anguish of, say, the Chief Operating Officer of Independent News & Media PLC at the possibility he might lose his job.


6. Big Walter - February 17, 2009

when did the stickies/workers party become hard left? In their on minds only, look at the petition for their leader is see not only how little support they have but the total lack of support or solidarity from any other left wing groupings.


7. Paddy Matthews - February 17, 2009

So, we put Kevin Myres, John Waters and Eoghan Harris in a room together and lock the door for three days. Who survives?

The rest of us.


8. dessalines - February 17, 2009

can we toss in m’lord bew and his proletarian sidekick patterson?


9. WorldbyStorm - February 17, 2009

Big Walter, not sure your second point follows on from your first question.

dessalines, Paddy Matthews is right, but so are you!


10. Craig - February 17, 2009

Speaking of Sir Anto, O’Reilly was/is also friendly with one Robert Mugabe in that paradise known as Zimbabwe. Mugabe even came to Ireland to visit him. A shady character, that O’Reilly. Still it’s nice to note that he’s lost a lot of that untaxed wealth in the credit crunch.


11. anarchaeologist - February 17, 2009

Some of us still remember the bauld breathless Henry rushing into the old Irish Press offices on Burgh Quay, looking for backup to hold his sweaty hand before he headed the darkest northside to interview an IPLO comrade of Jimmy Brown’s, who was with him when he was assassinated by the Provies the day before.

His account of the encounter in Deadly Divisions still brings a tear to the eye.

Henry is being disingenuous in the extreme here and it makes me wonder what he has to gain from this particular endeavour. Read it and weep. God, I feel a letter to the Gruniad coming on…


12. Joe - February 17, 2009

Anarchaeologist, Brown was killed by an IPLO faction, no?


13. anarchaeologist - February 17, 2009

Joe, I think it was fairly well known at the time that his killer was an ex-Provo who had associated with Brown and the IPLO for a while, before re-entering the fold, so to speak. I don’t know who claimed it as such, perhaps they all did? Maybe someone else will clarify the matter, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be mentioning names…


14. John O'Neill - February 17, 2009

I can remember a photo in Magill Mag of a WP Ard Fheis with Harris beside a few ‘Ind Affairs Dept’ ‘advisors’. Directly behind harris on the right is a youthful McDonald looking in awe at his hero like a starstruck teen. (I think it was one of the ‘Secret World of SFWP’ issues of Magill).

Henry is very close to Harris and shares his views on many subjects like ‘the Provo’s’, ‘Trots’ and that island of democracy in a sea of terrorism known as Israel.


15. WorldbyStorm - February 17, 2009

Interesting, I didn’t know they were still close…


16. Garibaldy - February 18, 2009

Brown was killed by one of his own members, sparking a feud that claimed the 3,000th victim of the Troubles.

I don’t have a high opinion of McDonald, but given the fact that his memoirs have been published, and his political background his there for all to see, should we expect him to mention it every time he mentions Eoghan Harris? I suspect his sub-editors would soon snip it.


17. Colm B - February 18, 2009

One would not expect Henry to constantly reveal his political past but the tone of the article is that of ‘well how about that, Ive just discovered this really brave, intelligent indepedent politician in Ireland who says they should form a national government’.

I think there is a certain comparison to be made between Senator Harris and his fans and groupings such as the Spiked/LM/ex-RCP group in Britain and the SDUSA grouping that emerged from the Trotskyist movement in the US. Although there are obvious differences (the last two are still organised factions) these reveal certain common characteristics:

The absolute dominance of a ‘charismatic’/forceful individual (Harris/Furedi/Shachtman).

The intemporate/dogmatic denounciation of others on the left.

Massive ideological change without real acknowledgement that this is the case i.e. failure to acknowledge their support for authoritarianism, stalinism etc. in the past.

This is accompanied by a certain degre of ideological or perhaps more accurately methodological continuity. In the case of the Harris fans: a visceral ‘the Provos are to blame for everything’/’all things unionist good’/ ‘the radical left are wrong about everything’ remains constant, as does the intemperate, denunciatory mode of writing.

Its important to understand that within the WP from the late 70s until their exit in 1990 the grouping around Harris were an organised faction based within the party with an overlapping faction of trade union activists centred around E. Smullen. Its no secret, if you’ll pardon the pun, that these factions operated through secret branches and did so with relative freedom, having a huge influence on the party’s direction for a period. This does not mean Harris was the secret svengali of the party, nor does it mean he always had it his way but he was undoubtedly very infleunetial. Why the other elite factions allowed his faction to dominate (ideologically) in such a manner is really a very intricate question which would involve a lot more discussion. When I say elite factions I mean those factions that operated at a leadership/central level since all factions were officially proscribed.

I not saying that an actual political organisation exists around Harris (as is the case with the exRCPers) nowadays, lord knows there’s enough conspiracy theories around without adding to them. Its more a case of a fan club but a fan-club that is quite hegemonic in terms of ideas, especially in its influence in Irish print media.


18. Dunne and Crescendo - February 18, 2009

An interesting hypothesis Colm. Might I add that Harris, Oliver Donohue and wee Henry are fervent supporters of Israel and freely throw around accusations of Anti-Semitism against those with whom they disagree. Former comrades of Harris have certainly been to the fore in trying to water down moves by members of the Labour Party to endorse anti-Israel positions.
Harris has really had the one line for the last 40 years; he is uniquely able to articulate the feelings/thoughts of the ‘ordinary’ Irish person; he has at various stages hitched his star to ‘hardmen’; the IRA, the Soviets, George W. Bush, Isreal, ahem Bertie Ahern and now Cowan. If you disagree with him you are a middle class, student bleeding heart Trot and or sneaking regarder of the Provos. At various stages he has won plenty of otherwise intelligent people to this thesis. He claimed in 2007 that several of his former WP comrades, including some well known activists, had voted for Fianna Fail at his behest. None of them contradicted him so I presume its true. But there are all the markings of a cult around many of his set.


19. Joe - February 18, 2009

Very good posts Colm B and D&C. Colm B’s post helps greatly with my understanding of the internal dynamics of the WP during those years.

Joe A


20. NollaigO - February 18, 2009

I doubt if Harris ever viewed Trots as bleeding hearts,Dunne and Crescendo, – too charitable to Trots by a mile!
IIRC, he/his ex was the originator of the phrase “Provo Trot”!

I first encountered Harris in UCC in the mid 1960s. In those days the Harris’s (very) public views were unexceptional for the time: Irish unity; the revival of the Irish language (he was a very outspoken opponent of the Language Freedom Movement); the Casement Diaries where he said that determining whether or not they were forgeries was the key issue and that, if Casement was a homosexual,then it was a private matter ; the participation of UCC rugby players in matches against teams from South Africa. In the UCC Irish Language magazine, Harris reviewed Maraiodh Seán Sabhat Aréir. The review was highly commended by the late Nollaig OGadhra. [That would be an interesting addition for the archives, WbS!] There was a strong element of the “brow-beater” rather than of the persuader in his public speeches. He did have exceptional flair as an orator and was very much the centre of any gathering, political or social. I cannot confirm the apocryphal accounts of the harassment of the Poppy sellers or of the wearing of the FCA uniforms. The wearing of the trench coat was definitely “de rigueur”.
In March1965,the winning of a Mid Cork by-election by the Widow Desmond for Labour causes the Fianna Fail government to call a general election. Harris came out in support of Poblacht Chríostúil . He got many of the students involved in canvassing and was a leading speaker at their open air meetings. His performances made a lasting impression on a (then) earnest young student, Anne O’Sullivan (aka Anne Harris). Poblacht Chríostúil was a short-lived constitutional republican group based in the Cork area. They produced a very detailed manifesto. Their platform was very much 1930s style Fianna Fáil protectionism and self-sufficiency with a flavour of “defending our traditional Gaelic and Christian values”. The Poblacht Chríostúil candidates lost their deposits and the organisation faded from the scene . The website, http://www.ElectionsIreland.org, wrongly describes their two candidates, Cotter and Miller, as independents.
Prior to Harris moving to Dublin to work for RTE in 1966/7 and regardless of he trench coat, I had no evidence of him being involved in the Republican Movement in Cork. Harris early/mid 60s does not fit the description in his political odyssey that he likes to paint nowadays.


21. Starkadder - February 18, 2009

NollaigO: “His performances made a lasting impression on a (then) earnest young student, Anne O’Sullivan (aka Anne Harris).”

On the subject of Anne, what was the story behind her allegedly
defending the Aldershot bombing in “Hibernia”?


22. sonofstan - February 18, 2009

Interesting stuff, Nollaig: the fact that it is not at all difficult to imagine EH as the archetypal student leader tells its own story – while others among our political classes with a similar background in student politics (Gilmore, Rabbite, Harney off the top of my head) now act like grown-ups most of the time, there’s a lot about Eoghan that still suggests someone more interested in winning the argument, crushing his spotty opponent with a clever line and wowing the girl he knows to see from first year Eng. Lit than in, you know, doing things.


23. Starkadder - February 18, 2009

I found this old article by Anne Harris which mentions the Aldershot

” In this article I wrote about the Official IRA’s bombing of Aldershot Barracks, headquarters of the Parachute Regiment, which was carried out as a retaliation for, and three weeks after, Bloody Sunday where 13 unarmed civil rights marchers were murdered (and many others maimed) by the Parachute Regiment.

I said its rationale was that it was a military target. It was aimed at the officers’ mess in the barracks of the Parachute Regiment where so many Poona veterans laughed after the Derry atrocity. The bomb was mistimed with tragic consequences. I said that while I was “depressed” at the murder of five innocent waitresses and their chaplain, I was also “sickened” by the hypocrisy of Irish media commentators who rushed to condemn that atrocity while condoning Provisional IRA atrocities.

I cited Franz Fanon on the rage and frustration of colonised peoples, and the role of violence in effecting historical change….

I very quickly realised I was wrong to write it.”



24. NollaigO - February 20, 2009

Thanks for that information, Starkadder. I never knew that she wrote an article defending Aldershot. Such writings contradict the present apologetics which pass off various OIRA military activites in the early 1970s as the work of the incipient INLA wing of the organisation. Ms Harris wrote ” I very quickly realised I was wrong to write it.” . I wonder if any evidence exists for the “quickly” claim. The original article in Hibernia and any follow-up might be worth unearthing!

Hibernia, at the time, often contained interesting articles including a fascinating essay by Roy Johnston, written on the occasion of his resignation from the Officials. I could not find any reference to this essay in Roy’s opus Century of Endeavour which is so detailed on many matters from that period. This essay was commented on in a detailed but acidic article by Raynor Lysaght in the Plough and titled The Doctor’s Dilemma, IIRC.


25. Starkadder - February 20, 2009

I wonder what happened to the OIRA’s arms? Were they sold to
some dodgy buyers, used for organized crime or just [i]”Under
green sods lay? [/i]”


26. NollaigO - February 21, 2009

Under green sods lay.

It’s < instead of [ and it’s probably true!


27. John Gormley: The Latest Eoghan Harris Acolyte? « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - February 24, 2009

[…] “open to the concept of a national government”, something that Harris has been pushing, as discussed here previously. However, Gormley speaks only for his own party when he says I don’t think it would be […]


28. Free Stater - February 26, 2009

Cowen Derangement Syndrome…

Funny, how everyone else in the country (who’s paying attention to such things) sees the versatile Eoghan Harris as rather more of a Fianna Fáil mouthpiece. All, that is, but the latest talent signing in the Irish Times….


29. john - December 5, 2009

Exclusive story on theirishobserver.blogspot.com about John O Donoghue TD…….can O Donoghue continue in politics….


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