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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!]

The British and Irish Communist Organisation, The Irish Political Review, or from here to there and back again… Part 1 July 16, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Communism, Irish Labour Party, Irish Left Online Document Archive, Irish Politics, Marxism, Unionism.


I was in Connolly Books at the weekend and it is good to see it back in its original location on Essex Street. It was also good to see that there were quite a few people in it. Anyhow, while there I bought Unity, a CPI publication, which I’ll perhaps discuss at a later point, and the Irish Political Review. The latter publication is the direct lineal descendent of the British and Irish Communist Organisation newspapers including Workers’ Weekly and Northern Star, and I am indebted yet again to splinteredsunrise for bringing it to my attention. And lo, Brendan Clifford, for it is he, still writes in it.

BICO has been through so many changes that one might consider it almost akin to the Revolutionary Communist Party/Spiked fraction, except without the sharp styling…or the puckish sense of humour…or the glossy production values. But in some ideological nirvana one suspects that the two groups are at least somewhat kindred spirits, because like the RCP the IPR now peddles a line very very different to that which Mr. Clifford made his name for in the 1970s. That was a sort of undigested Maoism, that became effectively (or as we used to like to say ‘objectively’) Stalinist but with one element that had a clear effect upon Irish political life.

BICO is best known (or perhaps the term is infamous) for its development of the ‘two nations’ theory which in the unrefined version proposed that Ulster Protestants were in fact a nation and therefore had ‘national’ rights that superseded traditional claims of Irish Nationalism to the entirety of the island. There were modish additions to this, for example that partition was a logical development on the island and the interests of the working class were best served by the maintenance of the Union. Naturally as time went on this developed more bells and whistles. The working class in Ulster was the most advanced class element on the island. Any expression of belief in Irish unity was revanchist nationalism of the very worst sort. There was also a non-too subtle hint that catholicism was a big part of the problem. Needless to say PIRA was anathema.

This wasn’t un-influential since since such an analysis chimed with the thinking of others within the society. It had a superficial similarity to positions taken by Official Sinn Féin, and some of the less profound thinkers within that grouping seized upon it as a both template for their future political development and rationale for past failings. This was carried over into SFWP/WP, later DL and arguably later still merged with an already extant strain of the analysis within the Irish Labour Party. This latter strain was introduced in part by none other Conor Cruise O’Brien, who also found it made a certain sort of sense as a stick to beat Republicanism with from the 1970s onwards. Here was a means of explaining that there was effectively nothing to be done on the traditional nationalist project, that that project was essentially a lie and could never be achieved. Later parts of BICO who joined Jim Kemmy’s Democratic Socialist Party merged with the Labour Party, thereby strengthening the tendency within that party.

The attractiveness of this position was, to those who misinterpreted or misused it, that by accepting this analysis they were somehow transcending ‘nationalism’ and all its perceived flaws. Yet any serious consideration of it would note that this was an analysis rooted in nationalist thinking (well Leninist to be absolutely accurate, for yet again his theory of nationalities was taken for a canter across unfamiliar turf). Hardly much a step forward to move from reifying one nationalism to two (not to mention implicit issues which were never, and could never be addressed by the analysis, for example what was the distinction between British nationalism and Ulster nationalism, and what was the situation of those who were of the Irish Nation within Ulster, or indeed just what was this Ulster that was bandied about so liberally?). And there was a further contradiction that pointed up some of the – ahem – flaws in the analysis. BICO were steadfast in their disavowal of an independent Northern Ireland. Yet the implicit logic of their position was that an INI was the obvious outcome. What stayed their hand? Why the notion that it could lead to civil war between Catholics and Protestants within Ulster. Something here really, really didn’t add up although the weighty thinkers of at least one section of the advanced left didn’t worry too much about such things, delighted as they were to be given at least some justification for their retreat from Republicanism.

On the other hand, there was at least something to it, if only in pragmatic terms. Unionism clearly existed as a socio-political entity, whatever categorisation was ascribed to it, whether ‘national’ or otherwise. Not much point for hard headed materialists to ignore this existence or pretend that it could be wished away – as large sections of Irish Nationalism had done over the previous sixty years, since partition removed the practicalities and difficulties of direct engagement from the table.

Whether this retrospective viewpoint was really anything more than making a virtue of necessity on the part of such luminaries as O’Brien is a moot point. One certainly wonders what sort of intellectual activity led to an almost studied ignorance of another element of the problem, the equal fact that there was within the North a cohesive Irish Nationalist population as well.

And turning to my own experience for a moment this was to my mind the most obvious flaw of received ‘two-nations’ theorising within the WP in the 1980s. Simply put it made no sense to pretend that the situation wasn’t a little bit more complex than just two nations, and therefore required a little bit more than the demonisation of one group in order to feel comfortable about the existing status quo, and this from a self-described ‘revolutionary’ party.

The late John Sullivan in his excellent and entertaining “As Soon as this Pub Closes” deals with BICO in typical fashion:

Clifford’s victory [on traditional nationalism], once quotations were verified, was almost too complete. Other groups had little choice but to adopt neo-Cliffordian positions, but unwilling to serve as a pilot to the Left through the suddenly bewildering currents of Irish politics, he spurned all ecumenical offers and pressed home his attack, calculating that if Left views on Ireland were a fantasy, the same might apply to the rest of their politics. Clifford adopted the working assumption that whatever the Left said on a given issue was wrong and he applied his training by finding examples which would demonstrate truths already established by faith and doctrine. For example: if the Left favours Irish unification, opposes the Common Market and deplores racism, we should adopt the opposite view in each case. Anyone can do that: it is more difficult to argue a case, based on Marx and Lenin, supporting the Common Market, the Orange Order or Thatcher’s immigration policies. The Jesuits have lost the knack of such apologetics since they adopted liberation theology.

And he continues:

Because the conclusion to any of BICO’s arguments can always be predicted by reversing the sign on current Left orthodoxy their writings provide little sense of intellectual discovery, but even friends who do not share Clifford’s intellectual background assure us that the argument is always a pleasure to read. Clifford’s main journal is The Communist, but there are a number of offshoots and Fronts, the most unlikely of which is the Ernest Bevin Society. The logic of this is impeccable: if Bevin hammered the Left for a generation, he must be a misunderstood genius, whose thoughts should be revived. In fact, if Bevin ever had any deep political thoughts, it would take Jacques Cousteau to locate them. Some thought that Clifford would become a guru of the Labour right, but that tendency is so dominated by Nonconformity, Fabianism and pragmatism that they have found him a bit of a puzzle. The discomfort is reciprocated, as Clifford does was not like the remnants of sentimental humanitarianism they still display. The gravedigger has still not found his final political resting place.

But as we shall see over the next couple of weeks, such ideological contortions were as nothing in the long history of both BICO and those who cherry-picked its thinking… and the story of where they went next is revealing both for what it tells us about the left in Ireland, and perhaps how the left regards itself…

Post-Nationalism V (I think!): Let’s look at Scotland, the Scottish National Party and all that… April 26, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Scotland, Sinn Féin, Unionism.


An extremely interesting snippet in the Guardian some weeks back, which events have prevented me discussing. Michael White was writing about “Fear and Midlothian” (and isn’t that a tired phrase at this stage?) and the policies of the Scottish National Party in the upcoming Holyrood elections. The SNP is well ahead of Labour and set, if events go well, to become the largest party in the parliament.

According to White “Alex Salmond’s …In his concern to reassure sceptical Scots that independence is a viable option he promises to keep all sorts of things, including the Queen, sterling, and what he calls the “social union” with England.”

Now, this is sort of kind of true. Which means that it’s a little bit in the eye of the beholder whether these are promises to ‘keep’ these things, or instead a promise not to jettison them overboard if Independence is won at a referendum. And there is a small yet distinct difference between those two positions.

In fact if one views the SNPs rather fine website (which by the by says many very nice and complimentary things about Ireland) one will discover that the actual policy positions are as follows.

What will Scotland’s currency be?
The euro may well already be a reality in Scotland at the time of Independence. If not, however, Scotland has three options – entering the euro, setting up her own currency, or remaining within Sterling.

The SNP is favourable to entry into the euro, assuming that economic conditions and entrance requirements at the time are favourable to Scotland’s interests. The currency shall continue to be sterling until such times as the Scottish Parliament decides to change that position. Any move to adopt the euro will require the sanction of the people in a referendum.

It’s that second paragraph which is important. The SNP is itself in favour of entry to the Euro (and I’d be four square behind them on that), but it will

Will the Queen still be Head of State?
The Queen and her successors will remain Head of State, in the way that she is presently Head of State in fifteen other independent Commonwealth countries. If, in the future, the people of Scotland wished to change these arrangements, they would be free to do so by amending the constitution through a referendum, and it is the SNP’s policy that the issue should be tested by such a referendum once Independence is fully in effect. Ultimately, the decision rests with the people of Scotland.

and Alex Salmond said some weeks ago in the Scottish Sunday Herald that:

“That is the argument to transfer full political and economic control to Scotland, not to interfere with either the monarchy or social union between England and Scotland.

“The two countries will be independent but with the same head of state.”

Again, the SNP is largely a Republican party, but it must appeal to a base which is divided on this and many other issues. So this in a sense is the compromise. Through the Commonwealth there is an opportunity to retain a link of significant importance to many Scots while at the same time becoming Independent. Incidentally, intriguing here to see how there is little of the angst and breast beating that accompanies many Republican dissidents regarding issues of sovereignty. Even with the Queen as HoS parliamentary sovereignty is regarded as absolute and the fact that Scotland will be Independent even under such a system is taken as read. Now, this isn’t an argument for reintroducing the monarchy to the Republic (although there is a different argument regarding the Commonwealth which I’d certainly be more than sympathetic to – say as a relationship between the North and the UK under yet further transitional arrangements).

But overall this is an extremely nuanced approach by a party which, of necessity must operate on two quite different political levels. On the one hand it must be a largely left of centre political party operating within Scotland on a range of issues. One can be cynical and propose that this is a means for it to garner the largest possible vote under the circumstances, but on the other hand it’s instincts have throughout it’s history – despite having a more conservative element within it – generally been progressive (or at least since the 1960s). On the one hand it must, as it were, address the constitutional issue of Independence and all that entails. This is quite tricky balancing act. How to push a population in the contemporary period, one where constitutional politics is of diminishing interest? Well, to be honest, I’d argue that they’ve been very fortunate in recent years. The establishment of the Scottish Parliament gave a focus for them to shine in a local setting. Counter-intuitively, or not, Blair despite ceding this measure of self-rule is fairly extensively loathed north of the Scottish border (perhaps less so than the Conservatives, but comparisons on this level are invidious). The Iraq misadventure has only exacerbated this.

So the SNP has managed to present itself both as the recognised opposition at Holyrood, but also an effective and professional one. And it can’t have hurt to have the SSP to it’s left perhaps indicating how moderate the SNP was for those as were worried. Add to this the partial self-immolation of the SSP in recent years and the SNP becomes not merely an alternative, but effectively the default alternative.

In such a context the SNP must acknowledge the realities I’ve mentioned before, of a population that in some parts has a profound attachment to the UK. Hence the talk of ‘open borders’ with the UK following Independence. Such things generally don’t need to be said, unless one has a constituency that wants to hear them. Now this hasn’t gone unchallenged – even within the SNP, and there are those who see this as capitulation. But the clear drive of the SNP to hold referenda, if in power, on these subjects is telling and demonstrates their appetite to put their case before the Scottish people.

And what are the lessons for this island? A number spring to mind. Firstly the curious similarity between aspects of the Sinn Féin project and the SNP. Now first let it be said that there is no comparison on one level. The SNP never attempted to forcibly repeal the Union (although like SF it took on a distinctly left hue unlike many nationalist parties of the last century). But strip away tactics and what are revealed are common problems, most fundamentally the strategic necessity to disengage from one federal entity and establish (or reunite with) a new political entity. The distinctions aren’t minor. It is clearly easier and less contentious for the SNP to operate within a society where the sectarian/political/communal divides while extant are much less sharp edged than in the six counties. Moreover the existence of the Republic of Ireland hinders Sinn Féin and separatist Republicanism much more than aids them (since it provides a half way house to full independence and in doing so mutes the demand for full unity).

But more important is the necessity to grapple with reality. How does a Northern Ireland transitioning towards leaving the UK in ten or fifteen or twenty years retain the aspects that are of significance to Unionists? This isn’t an issue of cosmetic approaches beloved of Republicanism which from Éire Nua onwards has had a sincere (and sincerely wrong) capacity to pretend Unionist national allegiance is colonial, a case of false consciousness, can be erased as if by will or an amalgam of all three (most heartening in recent times has been Alex Maskey’s entirely credible engagement with Unionism on the part of Republicanism).

The SNP seems to have grasped the difference between substance and image. Hence they’re comfortable with talk of a ‘social union’ between the UK and an independent Scotland and with elements of this social union which might make most Irish Republicans balk (and which would be inappropriate in any event in the context of the Republic) but which are not regarded as a significant diminuitions of Scottish sovereignty.

As noted above, this is not meant to be an argument for a shared head of state. As I say, that would be inappropriate (unless they agree to share the President 😉 ), but it is reasonable to consider that within the area of the six counties in the context of further development of the GFA there might be a dual or overlapping aspect to identity even in the context of a ‘near-united’ Ireland or island.

Secondly, it is notable how the psychology of this is developing. The SNP are generous. Remarkably generous in fact in even countenancing a shared head of state. But that generosity isn’t the product of fear of failure, but the possibility of success. This is something Irish Republicans should think about as well. And it requires Republicans to be generous.

Scotland is convinced that there is much to learn from the Irish experience of independence since 1921, and in particular from the specific experience since Irish entry to the EEC. Perhaps we have as much, if not more, to learn from the Scottish experience of dealing with another aspect of British Unionism.

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.

Unholy Trinity? More from the Guardian on Blair, Paisley and Religion…oh yeah, and the Peace Process March 15, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Ulster, Unionism.

Yesterday’s Guardian brought us installment number two of the Guardian’s entirely premature (in my mind) three-part series about the conclusion to conflict in the North. So what did we learn? Well here’s an easy to read and quick to print out comparison of some of the key points (and is it just me or is the Guardian’s current page layout very tricky to read to say nothing of the curious omission of their TV review in the murky edition that is distributed in the RoI?).

Notable is the way in which the interview with Seamus Mallon is restricted to their website rather than published in the RoI distributed edition. Perhaps it’s down to the testy nature of his responses and a wish to spare our blushes. Probably not though.

Religion is something of a theme according to the Guardian in the dealings between Blair and Paisley (the Guardian – richly channelling the 17th century – actually uses the phrase “A fierce Protestant” in describing him):

Tony Blair has forged a special bond with the Rev Ian Paisley, the DUP leader who holds the future of the Northern Ireland peace process in his hands, by discussing their common interest in and commitment to Christianity.

And this is supported – in a fine example of one of those times when one wonders has the world actually gone mad – by no less an authority that Lord (once just plain old Paul when he wrote Marxist analyses of the situation in the North and also something of a Workers’ Party line on such things – or developed than line, it’s difficult to tell really) Bew in a truly gushing tribute.

“Blair is brilliant at seducing Paisley,” Lord Bew said. “This is the most amazing love affair, the last great Blairite romance.They are even exchanging books on religion. It is fantastic stuff. It is religious; it is romantic. It is brilliant. You have to hand it to him. Once again, when we thought the old maestro was fading, his capacity to seduce, politically speaking, is phenomenal.”

Tony Blair has forged a special bond with the Rev Ian Paisley, the DUP leader who holds the future of the Northern Ireland peace process in his hands, by discussing their common interest in and commitment to Christianity.

So let’s compare and contrast some of the ideas that come up.

Here are some of the participants response to introductory gambits by Blair:


Q: What were your first impressions of Tony Blair?

A: He revealed to me [in 1993] that when he was growing up family summer holidays were spent going to Donegal, to spend one week at a hotel in Donegal and then the other week touring round family members in the north of Ireland. That showed that he had an interest and a personal interest. That was significant.


Q:He didn’t mention his Co Donegal roots?

A: He never mentioned it once.

Here by contrast is an assessment of Blair’s character. Spot who it is who ticks the most, median and least satisfied boxes.


We had to think on the gallop and make our own assessments and judgments based on how we found him. It was clear to us that he was showing very clear signs and indications that he was up to do the business as well.

I wasn’t able to make an assessment of where Blair got [his commitment] from. Where did his intellectual and emotional engagement in the process come from?…It probably came from knowing and understanding that this was a conflict that had gone on for, at that stage, over 25 years. What powered him in all of this? Was it a desire to be the first British prime minister in history to make an important contribution? It didn’t really matter. What mattered was whether or not we were dealing with someone who made an impression on us. Somebody who…was challenging the Thatcher mentality that the enemy was the republicans, the enemy was the IRA, that they had to be defeated at all costs. I think it was his willingness to do that that made an impression on us.


Q: Did you feel Tony Blair was being an honest broker?

Mallon: “Here was a guy with a moral dimension to everything. And I’m not sure at what point I began to realise that in his political dealings he was amoral and didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘honesty’.

“I don’t know whether that came all in one go, how quickly it came. At a point I came more and more to the view that this man’s word was worth nothing. I still don’t think it’s worth anything, by the way.

“That’s one of the most remarkable things about him. This man with a moral dimension to everything, who applied morality to nothing. I got increasingly to the point where I wouldn’t have taken his word for anything. And that was as a result of the dealings that I had with him.”


“We shared books that I thought would be good for him to read and I’m sure he read them. He always takes books away with him.”

And sure why not? Makes one wonder whether George W. Bush and the curiously close ‘relationship’ was something of an understudy for the big one…

In any case a remarkable insight into the chameleon like persona of one T. Blair. Not quite all things to all men, but close. Progressive to SF. Deeply religious to Paisley, and downright amoral to Mallon. I guess people take away what they want to from meeting him.

Anyhow, onwards.

The outcome of the Process itself:


My criticism comes from 2001-02 where he increasingly got the focus wrong. I remember we said to him many times that his focus was always seen to be on republican difficulties and doing things to help them. Whereas we pointed out that, ‘Look the real problem threatening the agreement is the fact that unionist support has slipped and has continuing to slip because of what they see as a continuing flow of concessions to republicans and you have got to address that’. And they didn’t and they were blase about it.

There seemed to be a sort of notion that no matter how bad things were, I would always be able somehow to pull the rabbit out of the hat. I do remember once one meeting in Downing Street saying to Blair that the way these things are going that I am in danger of losing my parliamentary seat. A senior aide who was with him laughed and said no that wouldn’t happen. But there we are.


The issue of arms was obviously a highly vexed issue…It had to be dealt with sensibly from a republican point of view. It had to be dealt with in the type of time frame that was laid down by ourselves. But the issue of arms was dealt with to the satisfaction of De Chastelain, the taoiseach and the British prime minister. And of course prior to that, in 2005, the IRA did make the just as symbolically, maybe even more, important statement that the war was over. So the combination of the war being over, the combination of dealing with the issue of arms obviously could only have happened within the time frame that was dictated by the republican negotiators. To deal with it in the time frame of others was to run the risk of totally destroying the entire process and we were not prepared to do that.


“Yes. There was a fundamental misjudgment … Anyone who knows the north of Ireland would not have contemplated actions which sold middle unionism to Paisley, just as the same way in which our party [the SDLP] was treated.

“Especially with the exclusion of Mark [Durkan] from the [later stages of] talks at Downing Street. Even the US delegate was there. It just wasn’t clumsy… It was a deliberate decision by the two sovereign governments.

“It wasn’t clumsiness. It wasn’t judgments that went wrong. It was strategy. You had [Jonathan] Powell and others in Dublin who had decided that to make this work you had to dispense with middle unionism and middle nationalism. I think it was as calculated as that.

“[But] middle unionism won’t go with Paisley and middle nationalism won’t go with the Shinners [Sinn Féin]. There’s your instability.”

By the by I find this middle nationalism/unionism argument enormously puzzling. For thirty years there was no real meeting of minds between the two. In part that was for the obvious reason that both parts of the ‘middle’ had to look over their shoulders at more recalcitrant parties. But it was also, I suspect, that there was no great pressure for them to do a deal. For Seamus Mallon (famously he of the ‘Sunningdale for slow learners’) to retreat to this sort of analysis demonstrates…well something similar to what Splintered Sunrise has noted in his excellent critique of the recent Assembly Elections (not that I agree with the critique in it’s entirety but it’s all food for thought). The middle ground (and middle class) appears to have held onto a sense of political entitlement. That’s great, but in a society like the one we see in Northern Ireland such an entitlement vanishes like the morning mist. Middle unionism has certainly shifted some way towards Paisley (or more accurately the DUP). The parts of it uncomfortable with that project, and the UUP has shifted towards Alliance. Middle nationalism has shifted more than some way towards SF.

And it reminds me of a conference I was at in Dublin back early in 2003 where I was talking to an intelligent thoughtful Unionist political scientist. He was telling me that he could see the centre ground shifting in Unionism towards the DUP, but that that dynamic of itself would ultimately tame and moderate that party. I remember being entirely unconvinced, even surprised by his equanimity at this prospect. But his argument was that the GFA could be implemented much more effectively in this sort of a context.

Perhaps he’ll be proved right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s introduced as…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From here it is but a short step to:

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

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

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

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

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

And so to Ireland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there is the slightly disturbing note in the paragraph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

or as the relevant section puts it:

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

The Executive Summary details the following areas of concern:

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

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

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

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

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

The conclusion is stunning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Okay squared.

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

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

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

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

Entertaining rhetoric, sure, but rhetoric nonetheless…

David – we hardly knew you… or David Ervine and the curious case of Ireland’s most popular Unionist. January 10, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Ireland, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Progressive Unionist Party, Republicans, Sinn Féin, The Left, Unionism.

And that’s the problem. Seriously. We hardly knew David Ervine. There were David Ervine’s aplenty. There was the avuncular telegenic figure of the last decade and a half. Clearly interested and interesting. Someone with a serious agenda and willing to put himself on the line in pursuit of that agenda.

Then there was the UVF member. That part’s a little more opaque, or as the Irish Times put it he was ‘reserved’ about the circumstances of his arrest. Just what did he do, bar the famous incident of being caught by the RUC carrying a bomb? That he was forced to disarm it is more telling than many people might admit. Here, after all, is the archetype of the ‘bad’ terrorist, the bomber, bringer of indiscriminate death.

Friend of Gusty Spence.

There was the student. Open University no less. Someone with a clear intellectual ability and acumen.

The newsagent and milkman. Newsagent? Milkman?

I was wondering was Ervine’s popularity because he was frank and open. Well Paisley is frank and open, but few enough are fond of him. Was it because he was true to his beliefs? Perhaps, but again so was poor (politically) departed Bob McCartney – another Unionist of a Labour bent – and look what’s happened to him. Was it because he was in some sense ‘modern’? Ervine, a man who in his 40s smoked a pipe, spoke in an erudite but somewhat mannered way and hewed to a form of socialism described as Old Labour. Because Ervine wasn’t modern at all. Ervine was somebody from the 1950s or 1960s transported by his own personal time tunnel to the mid-1990s.

Lest this sound carping, it’s not meant to be. But the chorus of laudatory comments over the past two days (of which I very tangentially participated in myself) was remarkable. Ervine managed to united Republicans – mainstream and dissident, Unionists both Ulster and Democratic, SDLP members, Labour, Fine Gaelers and Fianna Failers in a broad spectrum of praise and sorrow.

Will the obituaries and eulogies of – say – Martin McGuinness be as amiable? How and where do we place their relative worth as politicians, as freedom fighters as terrorists as… well apply whatever term is suitable or fits your own political belief system? Or is this a case of the other, simply by dint of being the other, getting a free pass, one built up from one part ignorance, one part denial and one part sentimentality of the ‘we’re all human after all’ sort.

smiffy raised a very important point on P.ie, that it was incredibly contradictory (there is another word, but I don’t want to use it) of the Peace Trains of this world to be picketing Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna while feting Ervine (a similar attitude is visible in one Labour party poster on P.ie who lauds Ervine in his signature but excoriates SF as ‘nazi’s’). Contradictory if only, if only, because the distance travelled by Sinn Féin as a party and movement was considerably greater than the distance covered by David Ervine as an individual. He didn’t deliver decommissioning or the disbandment of the UVF. They’re still there, they haven’t gone away.

That’s not to say he delivered nothing at all. His presence in 1998 beside David Trimble was essential if only to send a message to the DUP that they no longer could hide behind the threat of the Loyalist paramilitaries in the way they had done previously, if only to prove to one segment of the Unionist/Loyalist base that their political leadership could stomach the agreement. Moreover his political analysis is one that I would have largely supported, in so far as he actually was in favour of dialogue and a degree of compromise and conciliation and that he was representative of an often submerged but very real strain in Unionist thinking that was Labourist, socialist and – yes – in many respects progressive. But most importantly – and the key to his success – was perhaps the fact that he was willing to talk, was willing to forge real links with the South (as evinced by his and the PUPs support for the GFA) while remaining utterly convinced of the accuracy of his political analysis that the Union was the best possible environment for the six counties.

And aside from the personal tragedy to him and his family, there is the broader tragedy that Unionism has only produced one or two examples at a political level of rational, articulate defenders of the Unionist position who recognise that dialogue isn’t defeat, that engaging with one’s political opponents is the only sensible course in a divided political entity and that all-island engagement on a political, economic and cultural level doesn’t have to result in the jettisoning of a living and vital Unionism retaining links into the UK.

So perhaps the praise, for all the flaws of the man and the movement he represented, is more than half justified. Perhaps more than three-quarters justified. He will be missed not merely for who he seemed to be but for what he seemed to represent and for the lost opportunities of contemporary Unionism.

Post-Nationalism 4: Dissidence, sovereignty and abstention December 8, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Ulster, Unionism.
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The rhetoric coming out of the ‘dissident’ camp about abstention is very reminiscent to me of that utilised by the WP back in the day – only of course it is an inverse. I’ve written here about how one of the great errors of socialists (as manifested in the British and Irish Communist Organisation, but elsewhere, in WP, Labour and so on) has been to ignore the power, the signification, the very authenticity of nationalism as a dynamic and seek to wish it away. Often this attitude has been for logical, even noble, reasons, these being that one form of conflict on this island could be removed and replaced by the more submerged, less hard-edged issue of class. It’s an analysis I find attractive, but insufficient. Like it or not, when faced with competing national identities the recourse to class is going to fail. It has in numerous conflicts around the world.

That doesn’t mean that, as the classic phrase from the Easter Rising through the War of Independence had it ‘Labour must wait’, but it does mean that a serious engagement indicates that an understanding, perhaps even a sympathy to nationalism and nationalist thinking is necessary in order to progress the situation. In it’s BICO (actually I’m being a little harsh on Brendan Clifford, he always took a somewhat more nuanced view) and WP incarnation it led to a curious blindness, one which sought unity of the working class in Northern Ireland in a context where such unity was a chimera, while ignoring the very real repression suffered by Nationalists and Republicans. To hold one view was, almost per definition, to have to ignore the other. So there were ludicrous convolutions of policy about human rights which ultimately saw the WP adopt increasingly conservative positions on the nature and status of Northern Ireland completely at odds with their professed radicalism on the class front (indeed WP Ard Fheiseanna were always grimly entertaining during the debates on Northern Ireland as any motion about human rights became a non-too delicate balancing act lashing state violations but really really lashing PIRA and PSF and a remarkable reworking of class struggle where the most advanced section of the Irish proletariat (TM) decided the future lay in alliance with the middle class Alliance party and upper middle class ‘moderate’ Unionism – not that individually such alliances were inappropriate, but collectively, well, everyone got the message loud and clear).

Eventually – and I suspect there were psychological reasons for this as much as political i.e. a sense that in some sense the nationalist working class in NI was insufficiently advanced – there was a disengagement from the North when DL was founded.

So when I read what the ‘dissidents’ are saying I am struck by how they take the opposite route to WP. For them all other issues, class (bar the IRSP), whatever are irrelevant in the context of the monolithic embrace of the ‘Republic’ or, to be fair to the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, an ideal of sovereignty. They don’t see the people or can’t see the people in some sense. If they did they’d recognise that their brand of Republicanism is very much a minority taste (actually, yet again I’m being a little harsh, they are aware of their status, but they choose to see it as a badge of legitimacy). It’s one of the main reasons for the adherence to abstentionism as a principle. Which is curious in the historical context. Consider that in 1918 the majority of MPs elected in the British held General Elections on the island were Sinn Féin members. They then left to establish the first Dáil. Of course they could do such a thing for two reasons. Democratic legitimacy from the election was one reason. But more importantly they were a majority of those elected, so therefore the establishment of the Dáil wasn’t a mere gesture, but carried a democratic mandate and by the very nature of that majority indicated the strength of their argument.

It was as the years followed that abstention in the more modern sense of the term, i.e. non-participation in either the Dáil in Dublin or in any parliament or assembly in Northern Ireland became elevated to the status of an absolute. Indeed it’s worth noting that while the anti-Treaty side did indeed eventually eschew the Second (26 county) Dáil within a mere five years de Valera was working on a means to re-enter it. However a very small rump based in part around the remaining element of the anti-Treaty IRA and those members of the Sinn Féin party who remained after de Valera departed for the more balmy shores of Fianna Fáil and eventual state power slowly shaped abstention into a core principle. This element brought together the anti-Treaty survivors of the Second Dáil and their retainers and gifted their ‘authority’ to the Army Council of the IRA in a Proclaimation in 1938. The civil and military ‘authority’ combined in a seamless unity, free of the encumbrance of the necessity to be representative to the Irish people.

And from here abstention appears to be borne of necessity rather than absolute principle. A necessity derived from the fact that unlike 1918 where it was possible to establish a full, reasonably operational independent Irish political assembly, it was utterly impossible to do so from 1922 onwards. Sinn Féin would not contest elections, or hadn’t the membership to do so. In Northern Ireland the policy of the Nationalist parties to effectively boycott Stormont, locked out of power as they were by the internal demographics which led to an inexorable Unionist majority, would appear to have influenced, at least in some respect the thinking of SF in the South. But this was a terrible trap, one which led to marginalisation and political impotence. Abstention meant logically that the voters in the South were aware from the start that their vote was a wasted vote. Hence the number of Republican candidates elected throughout the 20th century was minimal (even if we take into account the residual attraction of Fianna Fáil for the ‘Republican’ constituency and chalk that up as in some respects representing part of that constituency). So even if SF in whatever incarnation did run for seats it’s likelihood of winning them was low, the numbers returned would be small and any pretensions to ‘speak’ for the Irish people would be demonstrated as false. Clann na Poblachta, which emerged in the 1940s with a heady mix of Republicanism and Labourism was a good example of the limits of rhetoric on this issue. They could, in part, drive Fine Gael to declare the Republic of Ireland. They could not, and did not shape the political discourse within the six counties in any effective fashion. The Anti-Partition Campaign of that period was an appalling misfire, with no possibility of success, and arguably a profoundly negative effect on the more socialist elements within the six counties as Dublin part-funded nationalist election campaigns.

Suddenly a tactic from 1918 altered, from being a means to demonstrate power through the establishment of the First Dáil to becoming a principle that served to conceal a lack of power. New absurdities arise in the excuses put forward for abstention: that Republicans cannot sit within a democratic body established by British law. Well, that’s entirely wrong, if only because the authority of the Oireachtas derives from the 1937 Constitution where authority is derived from the people, not the Government of Ireland Act. Or the idea that these parliaments are ‘partitionist’. Even that makes little sense in that the Irish Constitution explicitly seeks unity, and through Article 3 expressly agrees to the establishment of agreed bodies with all-island ‘powers and functions’. Unless one is wedded to the most legalistic of arguments it is clear that a claim across the entirety of the island without any means to exercise that claim (as was the situation with the previous version of Articles 2 and 3) would be entirely rhetorical.

Of course there is another reason why non-mainstream Republicanism clings to abstention. And this is that it fears the implications of entering the Dáil and Seanad or Stormont. This fear is twofold, one part a belief that the exercise of power in itself corrupts principles, the other part being that it will dilute the ‘struggle’ as TDs become engaged in the minutia of state power, or representation. While there is a grain of truth in both these propositions one has to ask what precisely is the alternative? The idea that parallel institutions, as in 1919, can be established seems to be a fantasy. Who will organise them, who will notice them, who will give them allegiance?

And what appears to be the alternative is a sort of denial of reality. Republican Sinn Féin only contests local elections (poorly it has to be said, having only had a handful of candidates elected and currently having none). It refuses adamantly to sit in Dublin or Stormont. It believes that it is the receptacle of Republican legitimisation, being the annointed successor the rump Second Dáil. It believes that the Continuity IRA is the rightful embodiment of the authority of the Republic and that all actions undertaken by that organisation in order to accelerate the end of what they characterise as ‘British rule’ are lawful. This is a high-minded group, fiercely loyal to the ‘Republic’ and all that entails but high-minds can bring great detachment.

The 32 County Sovereignty Movement, drawn from a split in Provisional Sinn Féin in the mid 1990s, takes a more hard-headed approach. For them there seems to be a belief that if only there had been a harder push by PIRA in the late 1980s the British would have been forced to leave. But they don’t believe themselves – in the main – to be the living embodiment of the Republic, but more a means of upholding the sovereign rights of the Irish people on the island. Still, they too exhibit the aversion to electoral politics, no doubt aware of how their progenitor has shifted away from the struggle. And their idea of sovereignty is rooted in a Westphalian concept that appears increasingly at odds with the reality of a Europe that has ceding considerable degrees of sovereignty in it’s very structures. So it’s an uneasy mix, some would perhaps argue an unfeasible mix, of support for physical force Republicanism allied with a very legalistic and rather old-fashioned concept of sovereignty.

The Irish Republican Socialist Party, anti-GFA, but also wedded to a version of socialism that while honourable appears less and less relevant to the ‘realities on the ground’, appears to have no clear cut position on any of this and remains in relative impotence, a tragedy for a group which was founded with the highest of ideals and a hard dose of realism courtesy of Seamus Costello. The IRSP is realistic enough to know that an armed struggle of itself would achieve nothing for the Irish working class, hence it’s support for the current ceasefire by the Irish National Liberation Army, but appears to be unable to take the next conceptual step which is that an armed struggle even in tandem with social campaigning will also achieve nothing for the Irish working class.

There is another strand, based around The Blanket website and Anthony McIntyre which repudiates the armed struggle, but equally repudiates PSF.

The major flaw of anti-GFA Republican dissidence is the obvious one, the fractious nature of those groups. Simply put there are too many of them and they’re too small. Where PSF could act as a broad church containing left and right wings, conservative and liberal, Republican essentialists and those who simply wanted to take a swing at the British, but also a clear direction, these are, to some extent, more like the competing platonic ideals that constitute Irish Republicanism. PSF could utilise the ‘armed struggle’ itself as the ultimate legitimisation – ‘look at us, we’re actually fighting for a United Ireland’ while it’s constituent elements could take equal shelter beneath that legtimisation. That wasn’t an absolute as 1986 proved when RSF upped and left over abstention (albeit over an amendment that only permitted entry to the RoI Dáil Éireann – although in truth it was much more complex than that with abstention signifying both adherence to armed resistance and the absolute opposite for both sides involved in the debate). But even so, the schism was minor. Not so today. The schisms are now before in their most precise significations. Simply put because we now see the core arguments anti-GFA Republicans propose, in all their different forms and with their different analyses, they lack a power and coherence. Three small groups with differing strategies (indeed sharply distinct ideologies) are a very different proposition to the former might (whatever one thinks of the actual tactics utilised) of PIRA. The hegemony of the PSF in the political context of the North is quite remarkable. The recent Hearts and Minds poll for the BBC gives of all Nationalist voters a significant 50.3% to SF as against 42.1% for the SDLP. RSF gains 5.9% while 32CSM 1.6%. Of course neither of the latter two would contest an Assembly election.

Beyond these more, shall we say, philosophical, issues a major problem for these groups is the current situation where there appears to be something of an aversion to the use of ‘armed struggle’ by any group claiming to represent the ‘Irish people’. This was in some respects deepened by the Real IRA/CIRA bombing in Omagh, but the tendency was gaining ground throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. In the absence of any appetite for a more hard-edged response their function becomes that almost of think tanks or churches, repositories of concepts that remain outside the mainstream. Violence in this context becomes entirely gestural (although I’d argue that even at the height of the PIRA campaign it too was gestural, in that it could never hope to succeed in purely military terms) and of intermittent frequency and a very low level of intensity (as exemplified by the recent fire-bombing of homeware shops).

So an awful lot of what’s going on appears to be whistling in the dark in the hope that the situation will change and that there will be increased support for an armed campaign…

And the alternatives to this? Some talk of civil resistance, although the form of that resistance remains opaque. And what’s the point if one can’t mobilise Nationalism to any great degree? And here in a sense is the huge problem at the heart of these competing enterprises. They are hugely detached from the realities of the situation they find themselves in, an example being the 32CSM documents on Unionism, generated for the very best of intentions, but destined to fall on deaf ears because of it’s provenance.

These groups are (largely) sincere and heartfelt in their beliefs, but being sincere or heartfelt isn’t really sufficient, they are also, to my mind at least, entirely wrong in these beliefs, their tactics and their strategies.

But they’ll keep whistling…

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