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Vols Colman Rowntree & Martin McAlinden – 40th Commemoration May 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Northern Ireland, Official IRA, Official Sinn Féin, Republicanism, Republicans, The Left.

Many thanks to the person who forwarded the text of the speech delivered at the Commemoration for OIRA Volunteers Colman Rowntree and Martin McAlinden.

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A few queries…… August 16, 2012

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Republicans, Sinn Féin, Ulster.

I was lucky enough  to receive a quantity of scans of assorted mainly Republican material from the 1920s onwards.  I’ve a few questions which I hope some of you may be able to help me with 🙂

Firstly a query regarding the address given on various leaflets/pamphlets (from the late 60s early 70s)  as to were they both Sinn Féin or was one Official Sinn Féin ?
The Addresses were in Dublin,
One being 30 Gardiners Place the other 2a Lr Kevin Street.

I’m also still trying to date a few of the items.
“Sinn Fein Today”
“Republican Education -What We Need to Know to win”
“Peace In Ireland” by Gerry Adams (Long Kesh)
and “Know Your Rights -What to do if arrested in the 26 counties”

The last query regards a group called ‘The Ulster Party’, I’ve searched online and can find little or nothing.
Anyone know anything about them?
Flyer from them below.

Pay attention Liam Clarke January 18, 2008

Posted by franklittle in media, Media and Journalism, Republicanism, Republicans, The North.

Liam Clarke of the Sunday Times has an interesting piece here on the dynamic between the DUP and Sinn Féin but a bit of a howler at the end. He puts a great deal of weight on the fact that the IRA didn’t issue a New Year’s Message this year, suggesting his security sources think it is a signal the Army Council is thining of disbanding.

Yet the IRA did issue a statement, carried in An Phoblacht, several days before Clarke’s piece appeared.

I suspect the Sunday Times needs to renew his subscription.

Sinn Féin’s nine months of madness continues December 26, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Democratic Unionist Party, Ireland, Irish Election 2007, Northern Ireland, Republicanism, Republicans, Sinn Féin, The North.

Beginning with a public apology to WBS for leaving him so long to carry the site by himself, something he is more than able to do I should point out. But the strains of moving house in December caused more than a little difficulty in the Little household.

It’s a pity, because when I read this fantastic story  where, as I’m sure people already know, Sinn Féin’s former Unionist Outreach official Martina Anderson argued that immigrants were the wrong sort of Catholics I would have given a great deal for a good broadband connection. Beneath the lunacy there is a serious point that nationalist areas continue to be more economically deprived than unionist areas and there is, I suppose, a legitimate concern that Polish immigrants might skew the numbers due to their ability to get jobs when the Sinn Féin voters of West Belfast cannot. But the manner in which it was made, and Anderson’s failure to realise that it is Sinn Féin’s habit of thinking along sectarian lines (Not the same, before the crypto-provos that I was amused to see inhabit the site descend on me, as saying it is a sectarian party) that created the problem in the first place.

It is difficult to think back to the position Sinn Féin enjoyed in the second week of March. They had just achieved another triumph at the ballot box in the Northern Assembly elections, managing to give the SDLP a kicking on one of their flanks, and a motley crew of alternative republicans a kicking on the other side. The party leadership had delivered an endorsement of policing by the members little short of unanimous and they faced into an election here in May with every chance of doubling their seats in Leinster House and livening up their Dáil team. There was an expectation of a dividend from Southern voters for the Assembly being re-established and the image of Paisley and McGuinness sitting down together drawing a line under so much of the negotiations impasse. If there was a slight cloud on the horizon political anoraks might have noticed Adams’ appalling performance on A Week in Politics the night of their Ard Fheis, but few people watched that show and surely they would have sorted out the problems, such as not knowing what tax rates his party was proposing, by the election.

And then, it all went horribly wrong and has been continuing to go wrong since. The election result in May has already been analysed to death but the party has lost a number of councillors since then in the South. Some for political reasons, some for personal ones and some for ‘personal’ ones. I reckon a number of people saw the bandwagon was running out of steam and decided to get off before it collapsed altogether. The DUP have bitch-slapped them around the place on the Irish Language Act, which the Shinners concentrated their attentions on while ignoring economic issues. Caitríona Ruane has proved an unmitigated disaster in education with her handling of the classroom assistants dispute set to enter the textbooks of administrations on both sides of the border about how not to handle an industrial dispute. Her proposed alternative to the 11+ is confused, scanty on details and poorly thought out. There is no sign of any momentum for devolution of policing powers and indeed the resignation of their Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA and former Agriculture Spokesperson Gerry McHugh along with the refusal of Sinn Féin councillors in Strabane to sit on the Policing Boards shows that the anti-policing section of the party retains some pull. Conor Murphy hasn’t done a bad job on water charges, approaching it in a sensible fashion regardless of what the far left thinks, and Gildernew has managed to hold the fort in Agriculture as well, but there has been nothing spectacular from Sinn Féin in the North. Except for attacks on Margaret Ritchie of course, which seems to have a lot more to do with attacking the SDLP regardless of what they’re doing than anything else.
Down here, the party has reviewed itself thoroughly and decided that it did nothing wrong, or at least its leaderships did not. It is telling that despite Fine Gael’s success Kenny fired Phil Hogan and a question-mark remains over Kenny’s leadership. Rabbitte and the authors of the Mullingar Strategy in Labour have been cast aside. Sinn Féin’s upper leadership remains intact and the move of key northern activists like Declan Kearney into positions of authority in the party in the South suggests that Adams, having listened to the opinion of Southern members for the last six months has decided to ignore it and continue to centralise control in the mistaken belief that someone other than him, and he alone, is responsible for the party’s disastrous election campaign. The murder of Paul Quinn brought out the standard Sinn Féin approach of blackening the name of the victim with accusations of criminality that seem unproven. What seems more clear is the eager desire among their political opponents to hi-jack the Quinn’s case to attack Sinn Féin, but they would have no campaign to manipulate were it not for Quinn’s murder and how Sinn Féin handled it.

WBS has already looked at the coverage of the Sinn Féin conference and the only thing I would add to that is McDonald’s comment that Sinn Féin does not have an ‘open door’ policy on immigration is no policy shift. The Shinners, despite the accusations of far-right lunatics on Stormfront, have never had such a policy but the party’s strong support for immigrant rights has often seen them cast that way, though like WBS I don’t think it affected their election performance. What interests me is the conference in Dublin Airport, at which the press were not welcome, held a couple of weeks beforehand. Criticism of the leadership, and of Ruane’s performance in education in particular, was much in evidence and my Southern SF based source who attended was slightly surprised to see the extent of the internal criticism of Ruane from Northern colleagues.

For the Shinners, they have two opportunities to get themselves back in the game in 2008. The first is their Ard Fheis in March. The reality is that the party is still shaken and still lacks energy. The Ard Fheis is also the most likely time and place for leadership changes to be announced with members of the current leadership not contesting positions and newer, probably Southern, people being put forward for one or two of them. It will also be interesting to see if there are candidates against leadership choices for the main positions from the grassroots. If there are to be some of the serious internal reforms the party needs and have yet to appear, this is the place for them.

The second is the EU Reform Treaty. This brings me neatly to a favourite topic, which is the madness of Vincent Browne who argues at the back of the current edition of Village that Sinn Féin has not made its position on the EU Reform Treaty clear and it is his opinion they are likely to back it. Ahh Vincent, take thy head out from the Mahon Tribunal and read a paper. Sinn Féin’s party leadership, and McDonald & Adams in particular, have been making clear their intention to not simply oppose the Reform Treaty, but to lead the opposition to it. Most recent press statement from the party on it is here. What makes Browne’s error all the more mystifying is that the former Sinn Féin European Director Eoin O Broin now writes for his magazine. This referendum campaign gives Sinn Féin the opportunity to portray itself as the ‘real’ opposition to establishment centrist politics and even the possibility of fighting a winning campaign, which would be a massive boost to a party going into Local Elections in 2009, and European Elections where only a miracle will save their seat in Dublin.

As for the party in the North, it’s not my area of expertise but I suspect the DUP and the Northern Ireland Civil Service will be allowed to continue to drive the agenda on important issues while Sinn Féin shout about the Irish language or wrestle with the conundrum of whether Polish Catholics are ‘real’ Catholics or some sort of ‘provisional’ Catholic. There is an old saying that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is King. Lacking such a person, I suspect for Sinn Féin in the North it will be whichever one of them has the stick.

A long way from the heady days of March 7, 2007.

“Armies” without people: The recent attacks on the PSNI and the political futility of dissident Republicanism… November 14, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Republicans, The North, The other Sinn Féin.

It’s hard to assess the nature of an enterprise which considers that shooting at a PSNI member in 2007 somehow constitutes either a serious military or political endeavour. But such an assessment is necessary if only to demonstrate the tenacious hold that armed struggle has on some within Republicanism even at this point in time. A hold that the political developments of the past 15 years or so have done little to alter.

The details of the attacks are fairly clear.

A lone gunman is reported to have approached the car and opened fire, hitting the officer, shortly after the car left Dungannon PSNI station and as it slowed for traffic lights.

Despite his injuries, it is understood the officer managed to drive the short distance from the scene on Circular Road near St Patrick’s Church back to the town’s PSNI station, and an ambulance was called.

His condition in Craigavon Area Hospital was described last night as stable.

The attack follows a similar shooting on Bishop Street in Derry last week. Jim Doherty (43), another off-duty officer, was shot in his car as he left his child to school. That attack has since been claimed by the Real IRA, which opposes the powersharing deal at Stormont involving the DUP and Sinn Féin.

There is an element there of testing the water. Wanting to strike but being unsure as to whether to. But that is little or no comfort. To take up arms is to allow for the potential for killing. And to wound is to injure and to maim. The scant information available doesn’t indicate the level of injury, but it could range from minor to considerable.

The supposed motive?

It is thought the attack was designed to coincide with a meeting of the local District Policing Partnership, a forum for members of the public and community leaders to raise matters of local importance with the PSNI’s area commanders.

Last night Sinn Féin, which recognised the PSNI in January this year, was due to nominate its candidates for membership of the body.

The meeting was called off once news spread of the shooting.

But the meeting will be called again, and it will happen. Sinn Féin will nominate its candidates and they will sit on the DPP – as they should.

So what precisely is the point again?

There is a paucity to these shootings. A sense that they are little more than gestural acts. And that is all they are.

Because, apart from the fact that two people have had their lives disrupted in one of the most appalling ways possible, it is the sheer meaningless of this tactic which is so difficult to take. Do those who went out on Monday and last week genuinely believe that by shooting PSNI members they are in some sense furthering the arrival of a United Ireland? An obvious question, but one which demands an answer. Martin Meehan of PSF (and PIRA) was quoted as saying that during the height of the Troubles there was always the sense that ‘it just needed one last push’. Time disabused him, and many others, of that idea.

Sheer pragmatic analysis (or ‘objective’ as we used to say in the WP) of the material conditions leads to a very simple conclusion. Meehan was talking of a time when the North was militarised, when PIRA was able to field large numbers of Volunteers, when there was little or no political, cultural or social space for Republicanism. Yet even then PIRA was only able to move the situation to a stalemate. Britain could not impose their chosen solution. PIRA could not impose their will.
But however bad things got in the North there was a self-limiting aspect to the violence. Characteristics of other societies with similar stresses simply did not appear. There were very very few actions against political leaders from opposing communities. Violence between paramilitary groups from opposing sides was equally limited (consider how unusual the Shankill bombing was). There was almost no mobilisation amongst the middle classes and even within the working classes there remained (as Ed Hayes has noted on a thread yesterday – and it is an important point) significant sections who would not cede support to PIRA. That provided constraints to the level and ferocity of violence – although it is a back handed tribute to all involved in the processes that ingenuity managed to create circumstances that tested those constraints but rarely broke them.

So, it’s hard not to believe that what was achieved was about all that could be achieved armed struggle or not. Much is made on occasion about how Jim Lynagh and the ‘flying column’ model of activity on the Border in the late 1980s could have been a means of prolonging or even extending the armed struggle. Frankly, I doubt it. Whatever the sincerity of those involved in an age of mass overlapping surveillance I suspect that it would have taken little or no time for such groups to have been removed. And the Afghan or Iraqi model of insurgency – which has also been quoted as a template in a fit of enormous wishful thinking – doesn’t suffice as an example for the reasons stated previously… pragmatic political considerations trumped nihilism at almost every stage. Belfast isn’t Baghdad, Armagh isn’t Kabul.

So what do we have now? Dissident groups which can mount individual attacks of murderous potential but little more. To get to a point where they might challenge the state (a state that now has absorbed Republicanism in the main and in the process has also had to reformat itself into a configuration that is largely unrecognisable to previously existing structures) they would have to effectively rerun the process of mobilisation that took twenty odd years the first time around. Granted the initial momentum towards conflict was rapid and the earliest years were marked by the greatest violence. But that was at a time of massive sociopolitical structural change. This time it would have to occur in the context of a largely agreed state where there is representation and participation of all groups within the society.

I can’t see that happening. The pools of rage and alienation that in part contributed to the longevity of PIRA have been largely drained. The arrival of SF in government is – by whatever yardstick one chooses – a qualitative change in the nature of the administration of the North. The support for SF appears near-hegemonic, and… as importantly, the change in the nature of the society with effectively a decade of relative calm has its own calming effects. The engagement by the South (and here can I actually praise Ahern for a second for recent comments on FF in the North?) however cosmetic on some levels is clearly genuine on others such as infrastructural funding. The dismal sense that Nationalists were a forgotten people shrugged aside by the Irish polity at partition is no longer true and partitionism not withstanding all know it isn’t true. So the sort of ‘defenderism’ which characterised some, but not all, of the struggle has little or no currency any longer.

But there is something strange about these acts if one places them within the context of Irish Republicanism. This must be the very first time in that history during the last 80 odd years where acts are carried out by groups with no political representation at all (and I’m deliberately discounting the micro-groups that were carried along on the tail of the Troubles  – or indeed during the Border campaign – since there was a broader political context)  and are carried out anonymously. While that may seem to fit a template of the Troubles it actually doesn’t as regards mainstream Republicanism. From 1916 onwards violence was used either overtly and by (semi) uniformed groups (as with 1916 and the Border Campaign) or within the context of a broader socio-political struggle and as a means of placing pressure on clearly defined targets. I’ve said it before, I think the armed struggle was a cul-de-sac after the first ‘defensive’ stages and we can all argue the toss about when that ended, but having said that I wouldn’t minimise the difficulties that would have been faced even in the absence of an armed campaign as regards altering the societal structures. Yet violence happened within social structures, a hinterland if you will, that placed certain constraints upon those engaging in armed conflict.

Contemporary dissident Republicanism has no such constraints. The organisations that support it have no representation and as such have not even the most peripheral degree of oversight from those they nominally represent. This is a very disturbing situation. The only analogues I can think of are the urban terrorists of the 1970s on the continent who by dint of their separation from the people in effect became a self-referential elite.

Hence the recourse to the rhetoric of the ‘Republic’ by those who continue to ‘dissent’ because when you lose the people, or a sizeable section of same all one is left with is ideas. But their notion of a Republic appears more and more to be a semi-theological concept with less and less relationship to the existing world. The concentration on ‘sovereignty’ understandable but irrelevant.

Jackie McDonald made a number of statements at the weekend about the UDA. Much of it was the sort of rhetoric one might expect. A lot less polished and varnished than we are used to from SF, but one phrase caught my attention (and that of Splintered Sunrise). He said that the UDA’s weapons were the people’s weapons. Hyperbole, of course. And utterly self-serving.

But I can’t help feeling when one looks at the RIRA that their time has passed. The GFA remains. The current institutions may be unloved – but they are worked. And they represent the people – whatever that strange amorphous body of many different individuals may be. And, it seems to me that any Republic can only root itself in the people. And those people, not the groups who would act on behalf of a Republic of the imagination, voted this year overwhelmingly for candidates who support the GFA institutions.

Which means that when it comes down to it perhaps the people want their weapons back.

Maybe not quite as British as Finchley? Why, it must be Dennis Kennedy and the Cadogan Group. August 30, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Northern Ireland, Republicans, The North, Unionism.

One of the less attractive traits, although perhaps one of the most understandable, in politics is wishful thinking, the belief that by stating something it is true. All of us have seen that, particularly on the left. The revolutionary potential of the proletariat, the idea that somehow SF is vanguardist, the inevitable growth of the SP/SWP/WP/etc, etc…

But to my mind the regular missives from Dennis Kennedy fall into that bracket (incidentally I sort of like Kennedy, he’s a crusty fellow who reminds me of a close relative now since departed and I enjoyed his documentary on the South and North some while back where he made some very interesting – if strongly questionable statements about the RoI).

So no surprise that we have a strange article by Kennedy in the Irish Times today. In a lengthy rumination on the nature of Britain and Britishness under the heading “Coming to terms with the British Question” he raises some – well, to be frank, odd questions and makes some uniquely contradictory points.

He starts with:

Why, in the discussion of Britishness and the nationalist threat to the integrity of the UK, does no one mention Northern Ireland?

and continues:

In pondering British identity and the problems of Scotland, of assimilating reluctant minorities, no one refers to the most serious assault by far in recent times on that integrity – a terrorist campaign that led to 3,500 deaths, and which has absorbed vast amounts of British government time and diplomacy in reaching the accommodation we have today.

All very good questions. And yet, the tenor of them is typical Cadogan Group. There was indeed a terrorist campaign, there was indeed murder. Without going the relativist route both campaign and murders have ended, nor was the campaign something in simple isolation but the cause of numerous dynamics within the North, on the island and on these islands.

He suggests, entirely correctly in my opinion, that:

Behind the radical changes implemented in Northern Ireland might seem to lie a realisation that the United Kingdom is not a nation state, and there is no national identity that can be labelled British. The UK should be seen, rather, as partly a historical accident, and partly a convenient political arrangement within which people of varying identities can live together and organise their affairs in a manner that is beneficial to all. People live in it because they were born in it, because political or economic pressures forced them to migrate to it, or just because it suits them. It is pointless to agonise over Britishness – it is sufficient that those who live in the state recognise its legitimacy, respect its laws and join in the political processes of its governance.

But then performs a rhetorical turnabout:

Or were the changes in Northern Ireland just part of the appeasement of terrorism, and further evidence of London’s distancing itself?

Well, what does he think? Let’s put the word appeasement to one side for a second because it bound up in certain meanings which are broadly unhelpful (although is central to the discourse of the ‘nice, not nasty’ self-declared secular Unionism of the Cadogan Group). Yes, it is evidence London’s distancing itself, and someone as sensible as Dennis Kennedy should be well aware of this, and also note that this is an approach (let’s not reify it as a strategy) which has characterised the engagement by Britain with Northern Ireland over the 20th century. Okay, let’s return to appeasement. Yes, no doubt there was an element of hoping to deal with the problem by ceding some demands – that too is characteristic of British politics, as with “killing Home Rule with kindness”. But that is not appeasement, and really, if one concedes that PSF ultimately came to some degree of agreement with the British state as it currently exists then is that appeasement at all?

In a way what seems to come through from this piece is a sort of somewhat unconscious but very real disbelief that there is a distinction between British interests and those of Northern Ireland, and indeed a further cultural distinction between the two. But look, it isn’t Great Britain incorporating Northern Ireland, but instead the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern ireland. This difference isn’t really that subtle, it is suggestive of two specific entities that have a link but are not synonymous. To an Irish Unionist of the 19th century this would not have been impossible to comprehend, but to Ulster Unionism (which curiously was more than happy to jettison three counties to the South despite the Covenant) it has always seemed a more fractious issue). To argue that there is a specific national identity that flows from the UK is unlikely, considering that even a British national identity – and I actually believe there is such a thing – is hard enough to parse out. But he appears to wish to elide the term British with a political construct, the United Kingdom.

This becomes increasingly problematic as the article continues:

It has taken 70 years for some of those lessons to be learned. While Brown urges everyone in the UK to fly the Union flag, its flying in Northern Ireland is restricted because it is seen as divisive.

But what happens in Northern Ireland is apparently irrelevant. The Governance of Britain says symbols help embody a national culture and citizenship, with the Union flag one of the most recognisable, and it wants current rules of flying it on government buildings relaxed. But not in Northern Ireland. There, it says, there are particular sensitivities.

Firstly it is divisive in a divided polity. Secondly, Northern Ireland is not Britain. There are particular sensitivities. This is the problem. And by the by, there are significant problems and sensitivities emerging in Wales and Scotland, within what is broadly termed Britain.

Then the article takes another turn.

The British should learn from the EU. Like the UK, it is an accident of history, the outcome of appalling wars, but it is also a convenient political and economic arrangement for an ever increasing number of Europeans. Its leaders have been foolish in trying to foster a European identity by decreeing a European constitution, anthem, flag and, now, a president – all trappings of the nation state. The EU is not and was never intended to be a nation state, or anything like it. Nor will a European identity ever replace national identities, however contrived.

To my mind absolutely correct.

That does not mean it cannot be an ever closer and sui generis form of union. Its flourishing will depend on its efficiency in satisfying the political, economic, social and security needs of those who live within it, not on everyone waving a blue flag and singing Ode to Joy.

Also correct.

Similarly, the future of the UK will depend more on efficient governance for all, than on banging on about Britishness.

But again with the Britishness… Let’s be clear. There is a British element to Northern Ireland. This is political, cultural, historic. But Northern Ireland remains sui generis within the United Kingdom, and the odd aspect of Kennedy’s argument is that he seems unable to perceive this.

Earlier in the piece he suggests that:

It was the failure of the UK to accommodate and integrate a majority of the Irish into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland after the 1800 Act of Union that ended in the failure of that union. It was the inability of the UK to reconcile the nationalist minority in Northern Ireland to life within the United Kingdom that led to the IRA terrorist campaign.

Very true. So what is the lesson?

Is there nothing to learn from this? Why did the 1801 United Kingdom fail? A factor was the refusal, mainly at the behest of George III, to grant Catholic emancipation immediately. Irish Catholics were expected to identify with a new state which denied them full political rights. Even after emancipation, they found themselves in a state which was avowedly Protestant, where the monarch was head of the Anglican church, and where that was the established church in both England and Ireland. The Governance of Britain, a potted history of the constitutional evolution of the UK, makes no mention of Catholic emancipation.

Hardly surprising. We’re – although I use that ‘we’re’ advisedly and to refer to Nationalism/Republicanism, rather than Catholicism – not on their radar. Never have been.

There were, and are, other strands to Irish nationalism, but few as all pervading as Catholicism. The lesson was not learned after partition in 1921; the new, reduced, UK still had almost half a million Irish Catholics fiercely resentful of their inclusion in that state. By that time republicanism was another factor in Irish nationalism, yet Catholics/Nationalists in Northern Ireland were asked to give their allegiance to a state which was not just a monarchy, but where the trappings of a Protestant monarchy coloured much of the institutional and social life of the country.

Also very true. And I’m fairly convinced that had Stormont been able to act more generously then it is just possible that a dispensation could have been arrived at that would have allowed at least a partial reconciliation with the state as it was then extant by the Catholic/Nationalist minority. But such a reconciliation was as impossible as it was implausible with Unionism as then constituted in the six counties. They could not allow themselves the flexibility to deal with identity and nationality in such a generous fashion for specific historic and political reasons. And let’s be honest. Such a flexibility was in short supply until arguably this very year when the DUP and PSF sat down together in administration.

So there is more than a touch of ‘if only everyone acted reasonably’ to these protestations. I share that feeling, yet I’m fully aware it was unattainable. But hidden within those protestations is another message, one that Kennedy and the Cadogan Group have been pushing for quite some time, that being that all would have been well if Catholic could be reconciled to the NI state and somehow discard their nationalist and Republican political pretensions. Again, perhaps had events unfolded in 1920 onwards in a different way such an outcome might have occurred. The North is far from the only contested territory on the planet and yet compromises have been reached in equally difficult circumstances. Yet, that too is to argue against fact, against the nature and disposition of those involved particularly – but not exclusively – on the Unionist side [and look at the records in PRONI from early Stormont cabinet meetings on various areas to see how the establishment of the polity was quite deliberately structured to exclude], and yet again most crucially to pretend (for that is what is happening) that Nationalism and Republicanism can somehow be diminished to a cultural expression in a way in which Unionism cannot.

Note too that while he mentions terrorist campaigns he is curiously quiet in making any linkage at all between a situation within which “Irish Catholics were denied full political rights” and that subsequent campaign. Nor was it simply an issue of being asked to give allegiance to ”a state which was not just a monarchy…etc, etc..”. The reality of that particular process was a state which in some respects refused to accept allegiance from Catholics, let alone Nationalists. Those few who stuck their head above the parapet saw no reward for their troubles. A cowed people were offered a ‘cold house’. Curiously this equally important element is ignored.

The heart of the issue is that this is not the Irish question, or the British question, but a number of questions overlapping and intermingling that allow for numerous interpretations. Consider the way in which there is no single agreed Marxist view of the North and we begin to see that to try to place this within simplistic frameworks is a futile exercise.

[Incidentally, and I’m being quite serious, while writing this I noticed that the little Irish flag under character input on my Apple menu changed to a Union Jack – now, I wonder how that happened, presumably sufficient inputs of “Britain” or “British” will have that effect!]

This nineties feminist kills fascists! April 24, 2007

Posted by smiffy in Media and Journalism, Republicans, United States, US Media, US Politics.

Anyone to the political right of the remnants of the Baader-Meinhof gang will likely have raised eyebrows on reading Naomi Wolf’s piece in the G2 section of today’s Guardian, where she explains to us why and how the United States is headed toward a fascist tyranny.  While it’s not yet a dictatorship, it’s apparently only a matter of time.  Unless, of course, Naomi can save the world (in her new book).
Wolf first came to attention in the early nineties as a ‘Third Wave’ feminist, writing about The Beauty Myth and profiled in a large number of pieces in which her own looks featured prominently.  Since then she’s been attacked by Camile Paglia (score one for Wolf), advised Al Gore on how to be an ‘Alpha Male’ during his Presidential campaign (score one against her) and accused Harold Bloom of making unwanted sexual advances when she was an undergraduate at Yale (no score draw).

While some of her work is interesting, her recent writing is, it must be said, decidedly pedestrian and unstimulating and lacks any kind of real intellectual rigour.  The piece in the Guardian is a case in point.  Even leaving aside, for a moment, the entire concept – the Bush regime is proto-fascist – is so predictable, so unoriginal, so … well … easy, that the reader is tempted to shrug their shoulders and sigh “Yeah, okay, whatever” and move on.

But the content is important and it’s on the content that Wolf’s argument really falls down.  She essentially takes a series of random criteria for determining fascism (i.e. “Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy”, “Develop a thug caste”, “Dissent equals treason”), picks some tenuous examples of these from the actions of the U.S. administration and – hey presto! – we’re on the road to fascist tyranny.

Except, of course, we’re not.  Nowhere in the piece does Wolf exhibit any kind of understanding of what fascism actually is or was (I’d recommend Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism for a serious and informative discussion of the subject).  Rather she picks the definition that fits the examples she can find which, while certainly to credit to Bush and the rest fall far short of the kind of tyranny Wolf seeks to invoke.

What’s worst about Wolf’s analysis is that by failing to get to grips with the real nature of U.S. politics she completely ignores the rot at the heart of that state, and exculpates the current (and previous) regimes.  The truth is that political power in the United States, certainly at federal level, is so determined by business interests that there’s no need to establish a tyranny.  There’s no danger of any threat to those interests emerging anyway.  Someone, I can’t remember who (it might have been David Aaronovitch on Little Atoms) recently made a very valid comparison.  While it’s accepted that the veto the Iranian mullahs have over political candidates is inherently undemocratic.  However, less obviously but just as actually undemocratic is the effective control that business exercises over U.S. political candidates.  Even though, strictly speaking, anyone can run for public office (Gary Coleman step forward), the reality is that unless you’re able to amass a huge amount of money, you’ve no chance of ever being elected.  And unless you pose no real threat to those with money, you’re naturally never going to raise enough money to amount an effective campaign.

This kind of more nuanced analysis seems to be beyond Wolf.  By talking about the way the government ‘controls’ the press, she completely misses the point. The government doesn’t need to control the press.  If anything, it’s the other way round.  The press (or, rather, the mass media and the business interests which it broadly facilitates) determines who the government is, a point made in Chomsky and Herman’s somewhat overstated but essentially correct Manufacturing Consent. Once you start throwing half-baked concepts of fascism around, though, any chance of a serious debate along these lines is lost.
Another annoying thing about Wolf’s piece is that it seems intent on playing up to a rather ignorant and kneejerk anti-American worldview.  That’s not, of course, to say that criticism of the U.S. government and of American society more broadly is illegitimate.  Rather, by never once comparing the actions of the government (particularly domestically) to the actions or the political systems of any other contemporary state, Wolf’s piece seems to suggest that the United States is the be-all and the end-all of global politics, a view as insular and uncurious as that of any much-ridiculed Middle-American red-stater.

The fact remains that the United States remains, in theory at least, a strikingly free society by any standard.  That’s not just in comparison with genuine dictatorships like North Korea, Belarus or Zimbabwe.  If you look at the protections for freedom of speech enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and upheld by law, they’re much stronger than anything we enjoy in Ireland.  Indeed, many of examples of steps on the road to tyranny Wolf presents would be unremarkable in many European countries.  Are we, therefore, all living under tyranny?

Of course, life in most Western European countries is, in many other ways, more appealing than life in the United States (if it’s even possible to speak in broad terms of such an heterogenous entity) and, it could be argued, civil society is far healthier in certain respects on the Eastern side of the Atlantic (although there are strong arguments to the contrary as well).  This is the stuff of a real debate about the nature of U.S. politics and of the Bush administration, but all of it is lost to Wolf who prefers to present an argument that would even shame Rik from the Young Ones.  Again the narrowness of Wolf’s political interests (even, perhaps of her knowledge) means any debate is going to limited at the outset.

At the risk of generalisation and of setting up straw men, I also get the feeling that the kind of people who would nod along with Wolf on this point, and agree with comparisions between Bush’s America and Germany of the 1930s (the “while it’s not exactly the same, it’s moving in that direction” kind of approach) would be the same people who would balk at the phrase “Islamofascism”, or at comparisons between Iran, Ba’athist Iraq or Taliban Afghanistan and genuine fascists states of the past.  And while the latter comparisons are, in many cases, highly suspect and rather stretched, they’re certainly a lot more accurate than anything Wolf puts forward in her piece.

The piece ends by telling us that “Naomi Wolf’s The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot will be published by Chelsea Green in September”.  Forgive me, but I think I’ll give it a miss.  For all his faults, I’ll stick with Hitchens’ Letter to a Young Contrarian.  Better a smidgeon of intellectual honesty and a dash of rational thought, even if it is latterly associated with the phenomenal stupidity of the current U.S. administration that the kind of lazy, predictable and, ultimately, inaccurate piece that the Guardian has seen fit to treat us to today.

Meanwhile…back in the North – a kinder gentler First Minister, an even more courageous Paddy Ashdown and an almost generous Minister for Foreign Affairs. April 21, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland, Republicans, Sinn Féin, Ulster, Unionism.
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Events are moving relatively swiftly in the North. Blair is considering attending the restoration of devolution at Stormont early next month.

Ian Paisley actually demonstrated his not inconsiderable chutzpah by inviting Blair a couple of days ago to go to Parliament Buildings to see the “new regime’. Now unless Paisley is preparing to perform a very public and very bizarre (even by his undeniably unusual standards) volte face in front of the worlds press on May 8th it really does look as if this bird, heavy, ungainly and nowhere near fit for purpose is limbering up to take a leap into the dark from a first floor window and might actually fly. Perhaps this is Blair’s finest moment, his vindication. Sad to see how it remains overshadowed by his greatest defeat.

As to the shape of that new powersharing administration The Irish Times relates how:

“Dr Paisley and Mr McGuinness have jointly sent a letter to President Bush expressing their sympathy over the loss of life in the Virginia Tech massacre. They also jointly sent a letter of congratulations to the Irish cricket team on their performance in the one-day cricket world cup. They also invited the team to attend an official reception at Stormont.”

Well, if they’re ordering in the finger food and tea (presumably this will be a dry occasion given the good Doctors principles on such matters) the deal must be all but signed sealed and delivered. All good, all straws in the wind. All remarkable for their essential normality and even – and I use the word very very advisedly in relation to the first letter – banality.

Meanwhile in the same report it’s noted that Adams expressed some concern over the introduction of Paddy Ashdown, former Liberal Democrat leader, to the North. Ashdown, it appears, served as a soldier in the North in the early years of the trouble. Now released from his most recent post as effective commissar of Bosnia perhaps he decided that he relished the challenge of a more difficult job, overseeing the review of parades in the North.

And as if that weren’t enough the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Demot Ahern has added a little under €1 million to promote cross border ‘outreach and reconciliation work’. In comparison to Brian Cowen’s €400 million this seems positively restrained, but the mantra in Dublin, and London too, is no doubt the same as it ever was.

Yes, everyone shall have prizes. None shall go home empty-handed. What a strange time we live in.

Independent Republican Transfers March 12, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Ireland, Irish Election 2007, Northern Ireland, Republicans, Sinn Féin.

For curiosity’s sake, took a quick look at some of the transfers for Independent Republican candidates in the Assembly. Unsurprisingly, there was a clear, though not consistent, bias towards transferring to Sinn Féin candidates. It should be clear that this is on a very small sample. Not all 18 constituencies had Independent Republicans, and in a number of places like West Tyrone and Mid-Ulster, Sinn Féin candidates were elected before the Independents were eliminated.

Starting with the largest vote, Davy Hyland’s 2,268 transferred at just over 35% to Sinn Féin’s Mickey Brady. The SDLP picked up 701 votes, 279 for Sharon Haughey and 422 for Dominic Bradley. The high vote for the latter related no doubt to him being a Newry based candidate, like Hyland. About a third of Hyland’s votes were non-transferable.

In Foyle, Peggy O’Hara’s vote was interesting as it was the second worst Independent Republican vote for transferring to Sinn Féin. Eamon McCann of the SWP picked up 588, SDLP candidates picked up 471 and Sinn Féin got 440, just under a quarter. Somewhat similarly, Geraldine Taylor’s RSF vote in West Belfast of 437, went best to Seán Mitchell of the SWP who picked up 139 votes, with the SDLP collecting 85 and Sinn Féin 88, just over 20%. The antagonism between RSF and Sinn Féin on the ground in West Belfast might have it’s part to play here.

In South Down, former Sinn Féin councillor Martin Cunningham saw his vote continue to decline and he picked up 448 votes. When he was eliminated, it was at the same time as 755 Alliance votes, but they would be more likely to transfer to SDLP, Green and UUP than to Sinn Féin or the DUP. On that count, Sinn Féin picked up 220 votes, the SDLP 190 and the Greens 323. It’s difficult to see much of Sinn Féin’s vote coming from Alliance and some of the SDLP vote must have. Certainly, it’s a transfer rate within the republican bloc of around 40%.

A similar picture can be seen in Fermanagh/South Tyrone where Gerry McGeough (827) and McManus of RSF (432) got eliminated along with 536 Alliance votes. The Sinn Féin candidates picked up 633, the SDLP picked up 495. Again, this suggests a substantial inter-republican transfer of possibly as high as 50%, but more likely in the 40s.

The last two constituencies were smaller. Barry Toman of RSF polled 419 votes and was eliminated with a couple of hardline independent unionists. We can assume therefore that the 139 (33%) votes Sinn Féin got, and the 84 (20%) the SDLP picked up, were from him. In East Derry, the RSF’s McGonigle was eliminated with 395 votes alongside an Independent Unionist. Thus, again, we can assume the bulk of the 231 (58%) received by Sinn Féin, and the 43 (11%) received by the SDLP, were from him. Interestingly, of the Sinn Féin vote, only 16 were transferred to former RUC officer Billy Leonard.

Are there trends here? Well on such a small sample, this needs to be taken with no shortage of salt but it seems there is a little bit of an urban/rural divide. In West Belfast and Foyle, Sinn Féin and the SDLP got about the same from Independent Republicans, but the SWP got more than either. In rural areas though, the Sinn Féin vote was much higher, recording transfer rates in the 40s and even 50s.

We’re talking about small figures here, but if there are Independent Republicans running in the Super Council elections, small handfuls of transfers could make a difference. It’s also interesting to wonder how many of these voters were new voters who had abstained in the past but once drawn to the polling booth, decided to transfer. In theory, as well as winning over former Sinn Féin voters, Independents could have brought out an alienated republican vote that then transferred to Sinn Féin, though it is more likely that in rural constituencies these were Sinn Féin voters sending a protest signal.

Very, very frightening February 14, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Culture, Ireland, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, media, Media and Journalism, Northern Ireland, Republicans, Sinn Féin.

With candidates declared for the Assembly Elections in March, a good deal of debate has been taking place around the Dissident, or Independent, Republican candidates running in the election. One of the most high profile of them is Gerry McGeough, running in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, a former IRA prisoner and a former member of Sinn Féin’s Ard Chomhairle. 

He is also editor, and published I think, of The Hibernian, which I’ve not read before but the February edition of which I came across today in Tuthills and with little else to read with my sandwich, thought I’d check it out. 

It’s scary stuff. Very, very scary. On the front page is a picture of McGeough and….the Virgin Mary. A big one. It’s done in such a way that it almost looks like the Shinner strategy of having candidates stand behind Adams‘ shoulder. The headline ‘We can win’ is straight-forward enough, though what the ‘we’ is referring to is an interesting one. Slightly lacking in subtlety, the strap on the bottom advertises an historical article about the Battle for Fermanagh of 1594. And McGeough is running in what constituency again? 

Inside, the editorial, and this is where alarm bells went off.

“For months now, we have been urging our readers to become involved in all aspects of life that would lead to the promotion of the Catholic Patriot cause and help bring about the Kingship of Christ on Earth.”

“We have argued that if we want to tackle the Liberal/Masonic Agenda and prevent the introduction of legislation that would favour abortion, pornography and the promotion of other abominations we must engage the opposition with action as well as prayer.” 

Further down, we have more reference to Catholic Patriotism and he concludes with:

“Let us go forward in the name of the Holy Trinity and under the protective banner of Our Lady. Éirinn go Brách – Ireland Forever.” 

Beside the editorial, an announcement about the magazine’s National Rosary Crusade, which aims to get groups of people together in their locality all over Ireland to recite the rosary and pray for ‘Our Lady’s intercession on behalf of Ireland in these perilous times’. 

I just don’t know where to begin. Other articles deal with the Bilderbergs, the perils of television and homosexuality, and a comment piece arguing that only through Christ can we rebuild Western civilisation. Catholic Patriotism? Creating the Kingdom of Christ on Earth? This is a world away from modern, and even traditional, Irish republicanism. 

It is one of the most right-wing pieces of Irish literature I’ve read in recent times. Backing McGeough raises questions for Dissident republicanism as to whether this is their alternative, though one can’t see the Real IRA going on a National Rosary Crusade. There are also a couple of questions for the Shinners as to how a madman like this got onto their Ard Chomhairle. 

Finally, this is a 36 page, colour publication costing two euros, even if on cheap paper and cheap ink, there’s money behind this. There are questions there too. 

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