4:42 a.m. July 13, 2013

A scribble

A little bonus for NSFW Corp subscribers. I don't normally do this, but this will run elsewhere early next week.

JASON WALSH, BELFAST, JUL 13, 2013 There were more riots in Northern Ireland this weekend, with loyalists attacking police in an attempt to force a march where it wasn't wanted. This nonsense will never end – thanks to the mechanics of the peace process.

In the interests of not boring you senseless, I'll try and spare you the Irish history lessons and get straight to the point: on Friday July 12 a pro-British Orange Order parade was banned by the Parades Commission, a local quango that licences political demonstrations (yes, really, that is what it does), from passing through the republican Ardoyne district of Belfast.

There is no doubt that Orange Order brought-on the violence and must answer for it. The organisation, having been banned from parading, invited not just the three lodges that usually parade through the district, but anyone else who wanted to to come along and make their feelings known.

This they did in spades. Loyalists clashed with police, attacking them with bricks, bottles, ceremonial swords and, eventually, petrol bombs. Police retaliated with plastic bullets and water canon. One unionist MP, Nigel Dodds, who arrived on the scene to complain about the Parades Commission was knocked unconscious and hopsitalised by a brick thrown by a loyalist protestor. A senior Orangeman was also injured.

The idea of the Parades Commission is to relive tensions between unionists and republicans in contested areas. On the surface this seems fair enough – few reasonable people like riots and Belfast is still a divided city – but actually it's not.

All of the academic blather about 'contested spaces' and political gubbins about a 'shared future' cannot disguise the fact that the Irish conflict has now been fully transformed into a struggle of identity politics.

There is also no doubt that the Parades' Commission is undemocratic and opposed to rights. I fully accept that republican residents don't like the Orangemen marching through their areas; I didn't like it either when I lived there, but isn't putting-up with things you don't like the price of living in a free society? If every demonstration or gathering that offended people was banned then there would be no demonstrations or gatherings at all.

At this risk of being accused of supporting those who want to resume the war – I really don't – the fact is that conflicts are zero-sum. In order to end, someone has to win, and if someone wins, someone else has to lose. In Northern Ireland, no-one won and no-one lost; that's how the peace process was engineered.

For the record, the idea that the alternative to the top-down peace process which nurtures grievance and division through supporting communitarian politics, complete with great wads of cash for a cast of dubious characters, is false. Call the local protagonists in the conflict, loyalist and republican, whatever you want – terrorists, paramilitaries, freedom fighters; it makes no difference – the fact is that armed groups cannot wage a guerrilla war without the at least tacit support of large sections of the population. The end of the conflict didn't come about because the British and Irish Prime Ministers knocked thick Ulster heads together, it happened because the people of Northern Ireland were exhausted. 30 years of war will do that to you. The fact that the loyalist flag protestors and various zombie IRA micogroups resemble the Keystone Kops more than their forebears is an indication that what support there is for violence is patchy and extremely localised.

Following the weekend's debacle, the Orange Order for its part has warned, correctly, of a culture war going on.

Edward Stevenson , Grand Master – seriously – of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland complained: "Republicans are engaging in a cultural war to erode all symbols of Britishness."

True enough, but Orange complaints about culture wars would be easier to take seriously if they weren't engaged in it themselves. What is the point of a marching organisation if not to play at culture wars? Besides, transforming the shooting war into a culture war was the inevitable outcome of the peace process.

The future? Ah sure, it'll be grand… ENDS Jason Walsh is a reporter based in Ireland

Back channel chatter

  1. Ugh: messed-up sentence: "For the record, the idea that the alternative to the top-down peace process which nurtures grievance and division through supporting communitarian politics, complete with great wads of cash for a cast of dubious characters, is a return to war is a non-sequitur."

  2. Well, you'd know way batter than me, Jason, but from way over here the idea that neither side won seems odd. What I've read about life in Nationalist ghettoes pre-war is appalling. Not just the poverty but the groveling, the constant terror of pogroms, official, semi-official, or otherwise, and the certainty that you couldn't do a thing in response. It seems less than a coincidence that it's now the Orange enclaves doing the imitation wall paintings and blathering about their coming extinction. Conflicts are, as you say, zero-sum, and once SF started bombing the heart out of London, which as far as I know was always their strategic goal--move the violence from Belfast to the financial heart of London--it became necessary to buy them off in a big way. I'd call that a win, especially when you look at the horrible "before" picture.

  3. If the objective was civil rights within a British state, then sure, but if the objective was a united republic of Ireland that hasn't happened. In the short-term at least, the North's position within the UK has been guaranteed. In the long term it's much more unclear. Southerners, though, are less interested in the place than ever.

    You're quite right that the Protestant/unionist/loyalist enclaves are the angriest, but unionist politics is all about Fear of The Threat. The irony is that if I had to pick a winner, they won. It's the republicans who lost. The only thing that makes this not zero sum is that the future is far from settled.

  4. Well, that was Robinson's position, right? "Unionists are too stupid to know they won and Nationalists are too clever to know they lost." But that whole "United Irish-speaking 32-county republic" never seemed real. It was the gulf between that and what was happening in Belfast and Derry that produced the big Official/PIRA split (along with doctrinaire Marxism from Dublin) and was reinforced over and over by the clear gap between the people of the Nationalist North and the 26 counties. From afar, the SF campaign in the North always looked like a straightforward fight for rights/power on the ground. And that struggle, the one that always seemed more real, was a clear victory. The other one...I don't know, but wasn't there always something fatally dreamy about it, all the way back to Collins' killing?

  5. Yes, but time may be against Robbo on that one. Hence the scramble to manufacture a fake "Northern Irish" identity to try and keep the taigs on board. All the clever unionist sociologists and southern partitionists think this is a miracle, but Northerners are likely to see it as a geographical term. I know no-one, other than the odd gadfly, from a republican/nationalist/Catholic background who feels any commitment to the Northern Ireland state(-let) and commitment to its institutions is conditional.

    I'd be reluctant to mix-up the begorrah Oirish speaking Gaelic bollocks with republicanism. There is a strong demand among republicans for a 32 county republic and they think, rightly or wrongly, that it's a matter of time.

    There was an element of so-called defenderism among the IRA in the North, sure, but remember even the moderate demamds of the Civil Rights movement were, in Trot jargon, "transitional demands" which the (then) Orange State could not accede to without collapsing. It took decades of reform (under direct rule from Westminster) to ensure that the rotten little state could allow Catholics to have houses and jobs. Remember, in 1973 it wasn't republicans who collapsed Sunningdale, it was unionists. They wouldn't even share power with the SDLP.

    As for the Officials… well… any political groupsicle that can work with the Stasi, North Korea and Ulster loyalists is… [insert your own conclusion here]. Despicable people with a lot of explaining to do, in my opinion. It's not just that they were doctrinaire Marxists, Stalinists in fact, it's that they were treacherous political hucksters. The rump is still around publishing a little mag Look Left (which it uses to launder its reputation with the latest generation of know-nothing leftist kids with no knowledge of history), but the party's former leading lights now run Labour. No surprises there: Stalinism and social democracy are both responses to the failure of Leninism and both are coercive. The latter just doesn't have gulags.

  6. This is me being uncharacteristically kind to the Sticks: No extradition for Irishman accused of selling North Korean forged dollars.

  7. The Officials, yeah...I thought I hated them more than anyone. Glad to see I'm not alone. So let me ask you how their various aliases--they changed their names as often as you'd expect for treacherous murderers, SFWP, WP, W-hatever-- managed to get support with a bunch of comfy idiots among the overage student demographic in Dublin. de Rossa and his lot. I wish you'd write about them sometime.

  8. By the way, in the 70s, 80s and 90s at least, the more Oirish the name, oftentimes the less republican the person.

    Frankie Ross was more republican than Proinsias De Rossa, despite both occupying the same mass (and presumably brain). I look forward to someone with a name like Saoirse Nic Éireann leading Fine Gael any day now… Mise Éire, indeed.

    Is mise, Maolíosa Breathnach

  9. On the United Ireland issue, I can definitely see the power and natural appeal of the idea, but in the short run--decades, not centuries--being a powerful minority with a useful grudge within the UK seems like a good place to be. Granted that polity doesn't do historical conscience in the way of the US or Germany, but perhaps a conscience can be inflicted upon it.

  10. Mise Éire always struck me a good sountrack for images of emigration, snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed peasants, Dublin and Belfast scumbags fighting, travellers, flabby men in ill-fitting suits, matriarchal harridans, priests and Christian Brothers, tractors, muck and potholed shitty roads.

    That, or for hanging oneself to.

  11. do you really want me to write that? because I will. I could write several books on them. they robbed and tried to kill members of my (entirely non-political) family.

  12. The problem with the NI polity is its backwardness. IMO partition destroyed both Irish states. I'd far rather be in Britain-proper than NI. It amuses me that Orangemen dress up as cartoons of early C20 Englishmen. Pip, pip old bean, like my bowler?

  13. Here's an oldie. This book is far too sympathetic to them, but it's a good read.

    Irish republicans for British imperialism: Jason Walsh reviews 'the Lost Revolution: A History of the OIRA and Workers Party'

    The Lost Revolution: A History of the Official IRA and Workers Party By Brian Hanley and Scott Millar Penguin Ireland ISBN 9781844881208

    For those that don't know the history of 'official republicanism' the Lost Revolution: A History of the Official IRA and Workers Party will be a shocking read.

    Little remembered outside of its former strongholds, the Official IRA was 'founded' in the 1969 split as the supposedly Marxist wing of the republican movement. It ended-up supporting the partition of Ireland while its political wing operated at highest levels of office in the Republic, including a stint in government.

    imageFor those aware of the Workers' Party and Official IRA the Lost Revolution may not be shocking but the sheer amount of criminal activity its members engaged in remains staggering. Robberies and extortion are pretty much standard fair for armed groups in Ireland but the Officials' criminal antics are made worse by the longstanding pretence that the organisation did not exist as well as collusion not only with the security forces, but also with loyalist paramilitaries. In addition, the officially non-existent Official IRA not only lied about its critics in the press and attempted to suppress honest journalism through its extensive media links (including virtual control key programmes in RTÉ current affairs output), it also conspired to attempt to murder journalists including Ed Moloney (himself a former Official Sinn Féin member) who had investigated the organisation's ongoing operations in the early 1980s, in Moloney's case by telling loyalists, falsely, that he was an intelligence officer for the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

    The rationale for all of this was that Northern Protestants should be courted in order to create a genuinely class-based alternative to the communal politics of the Northern state.

    Official Sinn Féin was neither the first nor the last group to come to this conclusion but it was the only one which ended-up supporting loyalists, helping carve-up Belfast and Dublin into criminal empires. People's Democracy, a more or less Trotskyist organisation that had been at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s, was destroyed by the emergence of (Provisional) Sinn Féin as a serious force electoral politics in the early 1980s, while the Irish Republican Socialist Party's links to the INLA meant it would struggle to convert Protestants to the cause. The Communist Party of Ireland, meanwhile, was small, with perhaps a hundred members and though not politically insignificant it generally confined itself to working within the trade union movement. The British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), meanwhile, took the view that Ireland was in fact home to 'two nations' but, while this moved the party into the orbit of loyalists, it had no armed wing. The remnants of the BICO are now, once again, in favour of a united Ireland. The same cannot be said for the various daughters of the putatively revolutionary Workers' Party.

    A whole host of other now forgotten Maoist, Stalinist and Trotskyist groups also vied, largely in vain, for the attention of the working class but most eventually stood aside for the rise of Sinn Féin. There was good reason for this: Sinn Féin, despite its legion of flaws, did become a significant electoral force after the 1981 hunger strikes and it was clear that the party had the support of a majority of working class republicans in the North. What it was unable to do, of course, was attract significant amounts of Protestant support. With the exception of occasional IRA volunteers*, the Provisionals' support was largely from Catholics, hostile to the British state and fearing attacks from loyalists. The INLA which combined Marxist rhetoric with traditional republican armed struggle also attracted several high-ranking members from Protestant backgrounds but its main support was drawn from the nominally Catholic population.

    In some ways the trajectory of official republicanism mirrors the degeneration of the British Communist Party – ideas that were twisted by bad theory, desperate bids to be accepted by the political mainstream, dodgy connections to the Eastern Bloc and, finally, total abandonment of their political ideals. Again, the difference is, of course, no-one was shot dead by the Communist Party.

    Today most commentators view the 1969 split in the IRA into Official and Provisional camps as being in simple left-right terms. While this was a significant factor, it was far from being the only one – a fact that is born out by the fact that the 'right wing' and supposedly 'Catholic conservative' Provisionals drifted to the left during the 1970s and 1980s and are now regularly dismissed by their opponents as 'Marxists'. In reality the Provos were, like most Irish republican groups, an often tense coalition of people who shared only the desire for a united Ireland. The Officials, initially at least, more coherently combined a kind of deformed Stalinist 'Marxoidism' with Irish republicanism but as the Lost Revolution ably demonstrates, the republicanism rapidly declined and disappeared altogether, leaving the Official IRA as so much an armed force as a group of armed criminals with a penchant for thinking of themselves as heroic revolutionaries.

    The Lost Revolution does a more than satisfactory job of charting the activities of both the Officials and Sinn Féin The Workers' Party, from the pre-existence of the organisation as left wing within the IRA to its almost total disintegration in the 1990s. What is not satisfactorily covered, however, is how its "political lobotomy", as journalist Vincent Browne called it, came about: how did a republican group become a unionist IRA? It is one thing to oppose an armed campaign against the state, but to support that state and collude with it and loyalist paramilitaries is entirely another.

    The bitter feuds with the PIRA and, OIRA splinter the INLA, are covered in detail but even the enmity that arose between the Officials and their more militant rivals does not explain how they came to the point where they condemned 'terrorism', supported the RUC, demanded PIRA members were extradited to face trial in Britain and, in some the case of prominent members such as that of Proinsias De Rossa, now a Labour MEP, even called for the reintroduction of internment without trial – all the while maintaining their own secret 'IRA'. Had the Officials really thought it was possible to unite Catholic and Protestant workers on a class basis against both the British and Irish states, should they not have stood down the OIRA in 1972 rather than going on a phoney 'ceasefire' and finding non-political uses for their weaponry?

    As blood continued to run down the streets of Belfast the official republican movement did nothing other than feud with the Provisional IRA and INLA and carry on its 'fundraising' activities, often in cahoots with loyalists. It's no accident that wags sometimes called the Workers' Party the 'Building Workers' Party', such was the Official IRA control of the industry – including, but not limited, to hiring loyalist gunmen to provide 'security' and forging tax exemption certificates.

    However laudable the Officials' plan to unite Protestant and Catholic workers, it ignored the facts on the ground. Describing the Provos as 'fascist', as the Officials did, is not only a misreading of the Provisional IRA's politics, it also blinded them to the real reason that Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA prospered despite their many political problems and internal contradictions while the supposedly 'pure' Sinn Féin the Workers' Party faltered: the Provos were a product of the conflict and supported as a result of a genuinely popular public grievance, off the back of which they launched their armed struggle. Once the OIRA had retreated into defending its own members, robbing shops and extorting businesses, both the party and the armed wing lost their connection to the nationalist working class. Protestant workers, meanwhile, largely stuck to unionism so attempting to seek a constituency there was bound to fail: even if there was a vehicle that could raise class consciousness among loyalists the OIRA wasn't it. As a result the officials turned the other protagonist in the Irish War – the one no-one talks about anymore – the supposedly 'neutral' forces of the British state.

    In doing this the officials not only betrayed their principles, they betrayed the very working people of Ireland who had been caught in the crossfire of the troubles. By the time I was growing up in west Belfast during the 1980s the officials, or 'stickies' as they were called, were a largely phantasmagoric presence, at least in Andersonstown where I lived. I was aware that their 'politics' seemed to run along family lines (perhaps appropriately, given that they supported the bizarre North Korean regime) and mostly seemed to run drinking clubs. Some weeks ago, when I was writing a defence of Workers' Party president Seán Garland, albeit a critical one, arguing he shouldn't be extradited to the US to face charges of conspiring with the North Koreans to distribute counterfeit 'superdollars', a close relative who had been around during the height of the conflict during the 1970s said that at the time he was much more afraid of the Officials than the Provisionals. This from a man whose entire family had no connections whatsoever to any armed group in Ireland (and yet was still, like all Falls Road residents, treated with contempt and harassed by both the unionist establishment of the day and the British security forces).

    The book makes a lot of the Workers' Party's electoral success during the 1980s, a familiar theme on the Irish left to this day. Nevertheless, whatever achievements the Workers' Party can claim, each and every one is overshadowed by the horrific legacy of the Official IRA.

    The Lost Revolution is being described by some as the definitive history of the Official IRA – they're almost right. The full story will only come out, if at all, when the current generation of Ireland's Labour party has moved on, thus making libel a non-issue. The question is, will anyone even care by then? It would be a shame if they didn't because the hidden history of official republicanism goes a long way toward explaining why Irish politics is in the appalling state it is today.

    The authors appear surprised that so many prominent figures in Irish society oppose the extradition of Seán Garland to the United States to face counterfeiting charges – this despite the fact that an entire generation of journalists, politicians, trade union leaders and even business people got their start in the Workers' Party. Although Garland is unlikely to get a fair trial in the US, much of the opposition to him being extradited seems to be rooted in the unprincipled fear of skeletons falling out of closets rather than concern for either Garland or natural justice.

    The best lesson anyone can take from this book is that the leadership of the Workers' Party, both the liquidationists who now control Labour and the hardliners who continue in the rump party, are a rum lot to say the least.

  14. BTW, not sure about Moloney being an ex-member. That could be an error on my part, I can't remember. I seem to recall having a reason for believing it, but it seems unlikely to me now.

  15. Yes, I'd love you to write that, but above all I'd really like to know why those idiots in Dublin actually voted for pigs like Ross/de Rossa. The Stickies always seemed like the most transparently loathsome people on the planet, but their brand of self-loathing somehow had a deep appeal. post-colonial groveling, "nostalgia for the whip"? Catholic self-abasement gone political? I just don't get it and never did.

  16. Because southerners fell, hook line and sinker, for the "Provos-are-fascists" line. The left especially. Irish liberals really hate priests. Fine, so do I, but I hate liberal secular priests (e.g. charities, NGOs, doctors, "evidence-based" blah blah blah — all complete bollocks) as much as the clerical kind. Making the (false) connection between Catholicism and the IRA allows them to feel warm and fuzzy inside. Better still, the transition from Stalinism to social democracy allows them to keep a hold of the thing they love most: bossing people around. You (Americans, not you personally) have a habit of looking at European social democracy and thinking "social services", but it also means massive state control of people's lives. In short, Irish liberals, they are morons.

    The Irish far left, I can't even be bothered explaining in detail. They're all quite thick and they cannot possibly believe what they claim to: are they seriously advocating command economies? Yeah, they're all "anti-Stalinists" (yeah, right) but let's do some arithmetic: Russia, nul points. China, nul points. Eastern European "People's Democracies", nul points. Cuba, nul points. South-East Asia excepting Cambodia, nul points. Cambodia, minus several million points. And we're supposed to give this stuff another go? I'm sure it'll all work out fine this time…

    Also, our glorious anti-fascist left scours Europe looking for tuppence-ha'penny fascists but tries to find "progressive" elements in Ulster loyalism. Pass the sick bucket.

    The revolting youth, meanwhile, know nothing about what went on here. One spent an hour telling me all about Palestine but when I asked about the North, all of 70 miles away, said: "I don't know anything about that." I have never forgotten this. They wuv a wadical wevolution. When it's suitably far away.

  17. Also: thanks to proportional representation, foisted on Ireland by the Brits in order to diffuse the Sinn Féin vote (note they didn't implenent it on themselves!) and multi-seat constituencies, almost any clown could get elected here.