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Left Archive: A New Nationalism for the New Ireland – Desmond Fennell, Comhairle Uladh, c. 1971/2 March 17, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Comhairle Uladh, Irish Left Online Document Archive.
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NEWNATFEN

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This document, issued under the imprint of Comhairle Uladh (Council for Ulster), which was in effect linked to Provisional Sinn Féin, is of some interest to the Archive offering an insight into those who were associated with various political and national campaigns during the 1970s. According to Robert William White’s biography of Ruairí Ó Bradaigh, Comhairle Uladh was based on ideas which Ruairí Ó Bradaigh and Dáithí O’Connell had proposed for a regional parliament for Ulster (incorporating nine counties) as part of a federal Ireland. To this end they had in 1970-71 invited various strands of political opinion including nationalists and unionists to a conference in Monaghan. While the SDLP declined the invitation a number of others including NICRA representatives did turn up. At the conference there were two proposals, one put forward by the PIRA Army Council for a Dáil Uladh and the second for elections to Comhairle Uladh as a means of promoting the first proposal. Both were passed unanimously. Fennell, according to White, came from a position somewhat different to the Comhairle Uladh concept, suggesting that a self-governed Ulster under Irish and British joint control might be a way forward, but as an observer to the meetings he later became more involved in the idea. Indeed White notes that he organised a similar conference in Connacht attempting to establish a Comhairle Connacht (interestingly White says that one of those who spoke at a Comhairle Connacht meeting in UCG was Michael D. Higgins).

As the document itself notes on the first page, “Comhairle Uladh seeks the establishment of Dáil Uladh – A Parliament of Ulster – within a New Irish Republic restricted with strong regional governments.”

In addition Comhairle Uladh – Council for Ulster – promotes cooperation with the Civil Disobedience Campaign in the North, endeavours to co-ordinate the relief of distress and suffering in that area and works for the release of all political prisoners.

Some 28 or so pages long the pamphlet covers a broad area. It is worth pointing out that it is not a left-wing document as such though implicit and explicit at times is a position that is in opposition to ‘liberal capitalist individualism’. It engages glancingly with Marxist socialism.

It argues that there is a ‘need for a humanist nationalism’ which it argues is reflected in Comhairle Uladh in ‘two strains’. These it is contended are:

The members of the Comhairle have been brought together by their concern for the Irish nation, whether as a reality to be asserted and realised or as a ruin to be reconstructed. Their nationalist concern is reflected in the literature issued by the Comhairle. But at the same time, reflected in the same literature, there is a humanism which regards the centralised, bureaucratic state, and the lack of real self-government which goes with it, as anti-human and anti-people. On these grounds, it advocates their replacement throughout Ireland by real self-government at three levels of society under an all-Ireland parliament and government.

In the conclusion it asserts:

The value of having an Irish community of communities as the overriding goal of Irish nationalism is that it challenges every kind of Irishman to be a nationalist in some sense. It makes the nation the highest value, within Ireland, that an Irishman can work for whatever his special talent.

It gives us, moreover a measure by which to discern which are the pro-national, which the anti-national, forces and institutions in Irish life. The measure is the simple question: are they contributing to or impeding the development of an Irish community of communities.

Straight away we notice , for instance, that the structure of the Catholic Church, with its team of self-appointed officials administering a powerless mass of laity, is as anti-national as the Dublin state. We see that the Presbyterian church structure is more conducive to community-building, but that Presbyterians, like other Protestants, are anti-national in their conformity to liberal capitalist individualism, and liberal capitalism generally.

And states:

As for the economic structures, there is little for us to notice that has not been observed already. The fact that they are anti-human, anti-community and anti-national has been pointed out many times.

Comments»

1. Bruno - March 17, 2014

A ‘humanist nationalism’ embracing decentralised anti-consumerist community building seems, prima faciae, to be something leftists could embrace. Aren’t pacifists and some socialists and some liberals also federalists? His reference to a Catholic Church administration as a ” team of self-appointed officials administering a powerless mass of laity” in contrast to the “more community-building structure” of the Presbyterian Church are interesting. Fennell has sometimes been falsely stereotyped by his many detractors as an apologist for the Catholic Church, particularly its Irish version. A nuanced reading of his commentaries on religion down through the decades would show that he is an intellectual Catholic (as opposed to a Catholic intellectual) who has single-mindedly analysed the Catholic Church from within throughout his writing career. No wonder that the Bishops as a group never warmed to his thoughts.

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2. Brian Hanley - March 17, 2014

Fennell was a regular contributor to An Phoblacht until the late 70s. He also had a column in the Sunday Press. He engaged in fairly intense debates about the nature of republicanism, loyalism and catholicism throughout and got called a ‘fascist’ on occasion.
One that sticks in the mind is his view that the republican movement should not hold its principal commemoration at Bodenstown, as the national revolution of the 20th century had very little in common with Tone’s ideas. He suggested instead the GPO or the Mansion House in Dublin or Pearse’s cottage in Rosmuc. As far as he was concerned the nature of Irish republicanism had changed ‘utterly’ between 1916-21.

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Bruno - March 17, 2014

Yes, he questioned the political blueprint Irish nationalists had for a united Ireland. He has been an extraordinary independent thinking Irish nationalist. And an extraordinary lone figure in the Irish intellectual landscape.

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3. Phil - March 17, 2014

Presbyterians, like other Protestants, are anti-national in their conformity to liberal capitalist individualism

Yikes!

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WorldbyStorm - March 17, 2014

+1

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4. roddy - March 17, 2014

While Fennell would have appealed to some O’Bradaighites ,I would have found some of his views eccentric and bizarre to say the least. However Brian I would hazard a guess that some who branded him a “facist ” were probably from the same movement who had no bother taking sides in the butchery of the Balkans and demanding the release of the worst war criminals the world has seen since world war 2.

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5. Brian Hanley - March 17, 2014

There’s a long list of the world’s worst war criminals, which changes depending on the politics of those calling them war criminals, so you’ll have to spell that one out for me.
Actually it was people involved with the Peoples Democracy and Young Socialists who called Fennell a fascist.
He had a public debate with Michael Farrell during 1974 on the nature of loyalism which is worth looking at.

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6. roddy - March 17, 2014

Michael Farrell is someone who had an admirable record on the North and elsewere and I would hold him in high esteem .The people I am referring to are those who decried “nationalism ” in Ireland and shouted “facist” at Anne Speed at a euro election count.The same people who took Thatchers side against the hunger strikers but then called for the release of absolute butchers in the Balkans a few years later.The same people who took part in vicious armed feuds with others on the streets of Belfast and then had the affrontery to call it a pogram .But then some journalists who need things “spelt out” also called it a pogram too.I had little time for Fennell but he had more integrity than some of his detractors.

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Ed - March 17, 2014

Gerry Adams on the Provo–Official feud of 1975–76 (from ‘Before The Dawn’):

‘In October 1975 the IRA had started a feud with the Officials of such dimensions that they terrified the people of the very areas they were supposed to be defending . . . it was an episode that inflicted substantial damage on the republican struggle . . . the experience of the feuding in 1971 and in 1975 had taught me that however one viewed the issues in a feud, the republican cause could be the only loser. There was no way that one group could wipe out another which was ideologically committed, and to attempt to do so was wrong, tactically, morally or from any other perspective.‘

He seems fairly sure that the Provos started it, ‘pogrom’ or otherwise.

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7. roddy - March 17, 2014

I was totally opposed to all feuding but both sides gave as good as they got and one feud was actually started by the UVF opening fire on an “official” parade.The officials blamed the provos and all hell broke loose.The only people I ever heard calling it a pogram were the WP and Brian Hanley.

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8. Jim Monaghan - March 17, 2014

Ranor Lysaght produced a little book very critical of Fennell. I gave mt copy to the Linenhall.

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Starkadder - March 18, 2014

Wonder was that a reprint of the anti-Fennell articles that
appeared in the RMG’s “Marxist Review”.

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9. Brian Hanley - March 17, 2014

Ah Roddy, you must have stickies on the brain.
I commented on a discussion about Des Fennell, who wrote widely in An Phoblact in the 1970s. Fennell was criticised by some on the far-left for being a ‘fascist’: their term. But the interesting debate was when he argued that the loyalists represented some from of national identity that would have to be accommodated in some future political structure. Fennell’s views had some influence on the thinking of leading Provisionals when they entered into discussions with the UVF in 1974. Michael Farrell’s critique (at the time, because his views have substantially changed) was that the loyalists represented a ‘colon’ bloc that were ripe for fascism and that loyalism could not be compromised with, in any way. This view influenced another section of the IRA leadership and in fact was a key reason why the Éire Nua policy was dumped.
The Officials had nothing to do with this discussion at all. You introduced them.
By the way, the relevant chapter in The Lost Revolution is called ‘The “pogrom”‘.

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10. roddy - March 17, 2014

Fair enough Brian ,anytime I want to spout anything a bit iffy i’ll stick a couple of inverted commas round it and then say “nothing to do with me gov” !

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11. Brian Hanley - March 17, 2014

Roddy, we will end up going around in circles here, but I’ll give this a try.
When Scott Millar and I wrote the Lost Revolution we aimed to try and firstly chronicle what happened, and provide SOME explanation for why things happened as they did. The 1975 feud was absolutely pivotal in the evolution of the Officials, particularly in Belfast. Nearly 40 years after the event we were trying to recreate something of the atmosphere. The week after the feud began (with as I’m sure you know, the shooting of up to 30 people by the PIRA) Hibernia magazine in Dublin ran the front page headline ‘Provo Pogrom’ illustrated by a photograph of a gunman running up a street of terraced houses. Hibernia was regarded as a hostile magazine by the Officials: there was little love lost between them. Yet the term ‘pogrom’ was used by them first and the Officials ran with it, using the Hibernia front cover as the model for their own pamphlet ‘Pogrom’. Our use of inverted commas signifies that while the subjects of our book still use that term, we didn’t agree with it.

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Gearóid Ó Faoleán - March 21, 2014

“Hibernia was regarded as a hostile magazine by the Officials: there was little love lost between them.”

>>

Brian,

In your and Scott Millar’s book, on p. 205, it notes:

“Hibernia magazine regularly featured articles by leading Officials, with supporter Anne Harris writing a regular back-page column.”

Granted, there wad three-odd years between the period referred to in your book and the feud.

Interestingly, on p.45 of ‘Provos: Patriots or Terrorists?’, the 1974 booklet produced by an An Phoblact editor, it notes that the Irish Times and Hibernia are less biased than the Irish Independent “even if some of their individual writers are slanted towards the Gardiner Place N.L.F.”

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Brian Hanley - March 21, 2014

Gearóid,
Hibernia featured articles by Officials and Official supporters in the early 70s. By 1974 relations had cooled and articles by Brian Trench and Jack Holland would have been regarded as hostile by the Official leadership. Post- the IRSP split the Officials saw Hibernia as a pro-IRSP magazine. So by the time of the 1975 feud the magazine and Gardiner Place were not on speaking terms. If anything that relationship worsened by the late 1970s.
People like Conor Cruise O’Brien would have regarded Hibernia as a ‘pro-IRA’ magazine throughout the 1970s.
In terms of political coverage it was far more impressive than anything out there today.

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Gearóid Ó Faoleán - March 22, 2014

Brian,

Thanks for that.

I do recall it being mentioned in your book that Jack Holland had a cousin shot by the Officials. He himself would also be quite hostile to the Provisionals.

On your last point, I agree entirely.

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12. roddy - March 17, 2014

Brian ,if I thought that a particular term was replacing historical fact with horseshit ,I would not give it any credibility by using it at all ,inverted commas or not.Believe it or not I would not have been overly hostile to the officials at that time.I would not have been affiliated to either group in 75 and would have been on good terms with people from all shades of republicanism.This would not have been uncommon outside Belfast and any officials I knew would never have described it as a pogram when talking in republican circles.In fact they would have boasted about casualties inflicted on the provos.

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13. Marxman - March 17, 2014

Roddy, I was there in 1975 when the Provos launched their no warning attack on the Officials. I lost several good comrades who were shot in their homes in front of their families or having a quiet drink in their local club or pub, a young girl was shot dead on her fathers knee as well. There will be a commeration next year (there have been several in the past) at the Workers Party Plot in Milltown cemetery to mark loss of these comrades and friends. I will be there as I was at the past ones, you are welcome to attend and you will hear people who were shot and survived talking of the Provo Pogrom. You might meet some of these people you were on good terms with!

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14. Marxman - March 17, 2014

* commemoration

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15. Garibaldy - March 17, 2014

I enjoyed Roddy’s contributions here. They reveal that when it comes to war criminals since world war 2, he judges not, for example, by who deliberately killed the most civilians in indiscriminate terror bombings from the air in, say, southeast Asia, but how can he use it to get jabs in at localised opponents. Genuine anti-imperialism and internationalism at work, in no way reminiscent of Harris et al judging WWI on Irish terms. I also like his outrage at factual inaccuracy, not so long after he was on here stating baldly as fact that Tony O’Reilly funded the Workers’ Party. And we know it wasn’t iffy because there were no inverted commas around it.

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16. roddy - March 17, 2014

I was talking about Europe since world war 2 and you know damn well I utterly detest what the yanks did in Vietnam.Perhaps you could tell me how you oppose “nationalism ” in Ireland yet side with those who practised nationalism in its vilest and most perverted form in the Balkans. As for your comrade “marxman” ,maybe he’ll let us know who killed the IRSP members and provos in the various feuds and why nobody else referred to them as a pogram.

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Garibaldy - March 17, 2014

See Roddy, you’ve just proven my point. Even when Brian pointed out to you where the pogrom phrase comes from, you still insist no-one else used it.

Regarding Vietnam, I know nothing of the sort. I do know, however, that some of the most prominent supporters of the provisionals in the US supported the US in Vietnam.

And the exact phrase you used was “the world” and not Europe.

The WP sided with international law and against imperialist aggression, not with nationalism.

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17. roddy - March 17, 2014

You supported the imperialists in Ireland,were described by Jim Prior as his favourite party and accommodated Harris ,Bew and their ilk within your ranks.You voted in the dail for extradition to Thatchers Britain and then had the affrontery to ask SF to support Garland when he faced extradition to the US.Ironically virtually every SF TD and MLA did so including Dessie Ellis who you were glad to hand over the Brits.When Garlands campaign succeeded he expressed his thanks by joining in an anti SF television hatefest within weeks.

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Garibaldy - March 17, 2014

Classic whataboutery. Perhaps you should spend more time on Sluggerotoole.

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18. Bruno - March 17, 2014

Amazing how a slight discussion about Desmond Fennell has switched to a raking over the embers of a vicious sticky-provo feud.

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19. roddy - March 18, 2014

Slugger is also an anti SF hatefest where you would be welcomed with open arms.

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Garibaldy - March 18, 2014

“also an anti SF hatefest”

So CLR is one of these then? News to whoever sends the An Phoblacht stuff every month I imagine.

Like I say, I’m enjoying your comments on this thread.

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20. roddy - March 18, 2014

CLR is a site that gives a fair hearing to all views .The anti SF hatefest I was referring to was the TV programme that Garland so enthusiastically participated in.Harris has you well schooled in the black arts.

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21. Starkadder - March 18, 2014

To get back to Fennell: he caused a bit of a ruckus with
some of his letters to the IT, one in September 27th 1999 stating:

“…the rules of Western civilisation are well known. Massacre and abortion are grievous crimes. Christian morality guides the making of laws. Men’s work and women’s work are different. Chastity and frugality are admirable virtues. Homosexual relationships are an unnatural vice. Women are legally subordinate to men”.

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Desmond Fennell - May 20, 2014

22. Desmond Fennell
Let me point out that my website desmondfennell.com is headed “Desmond Fennell on the Post-European Condition of the West”. In my recent books I treat European/Western civilisation as something we have left behind us.

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