Friday, 4 January 2019



50 years on from the outbreak of the so called “troubles” we have had a range of commemorations and interpretations of who did what, why and how they were wrong and how it was the “Sticks” (ie Official Republican Movement)
the SDLP, the Provos and the CPNI who were the real founders of the civil rights movement.And indeed was  not Gerry Adams the real brains behind the civil rights movement!! And that the whole of the Provo armed struggle was for “equality”.

Not that the volunteers of the IRA(Provo wing ) were actually aware of that!!!They fought and died for the ending of partition and the unification of the island under some variant of socialism. As indeed did the volunteers of the Official IRA. Many young people today, even those going to university have swallowed hook line and sinker the Sinn Fein line that it was all about “equality”.

This writer begs to differ. For the record, at the time of the emergence of the civil rights struggle I was a student at Queens University. I was a member of both the Labour Group at Queens and the Fintan Lalor Republican Club,-out of solidarity with republican comrades who were banned both by Queens and the Northern Ireland Government at the instigation of Bill Craig then Minister of Home Affairs

I fully participated in the activities of radical students who reacted to the attack by the RUC on the Civil rights demonstration in Derry on October the 5th 1968.On the following Wednesday along with hundreds of others I marched towards the Belfast City Hall from the Queens Student Union.The RUC prevented us from reaching the City Hall so we sat down in Linenhall Street and protested. That confused the peelers for they were not used to dealing with educated youth with a background from both catholicism and protestantism. We eventually walked back Queens and established the Peoples Democracy - a loose anarchist type movement initially. On a number of occasions we were attacked on the streets by young working class protestants from Donegall Pass and Sandy Row. On November 30th 1968 loyalist thugs under the  direction of Ian Paisley occupied the centre of Armagh City to prevent a civil rights march. They roamed those streets armed with iron bars and sticks unmolested by the RUC.

Many of us then in PD.  observed this collaboration between the official and unofficial police forces for the unionist state.So we were  not unaware of the sectarian tensions raised by street protests that seemed to challenge the very existence of the Northern Ireland State.  I came from a town where our friendly protestant neighbours simply refused to acknowledge our existence during the 12th fortnight.

Future accusations of naivety by respected journalists, academics, bitter opponents and former republican participants in the Provo war, never mind the constant drip of revision from those never had taken any part in the struggle either for civil or national rights are all part of the attempt to re write history.
This with a view to say that if only a more moderate policy had been adopted the “troubles “ would never had started and that nice man, Prime Minister Terence O’Neill would have introduced the necessary reforms for our’wee six counties”. An all would have lived happily after “in a land of milk and honey”

Such views ignore the elephant in the room. The reality is that the state of Northern Ireland  was and is a cesspit of sectarianism. That sectarianism pre-date the foundation of that state. It has its origins in the concept that some people are better than others. So in many parts of the world it manifests itself in racism, religious bigotry, homophobia or misogyny-the hatred or contempt against women.All societies have elements of these traits. The north of Ireland has these in bucketfuls. And all of these traits are useful weapons in the hands of the ruling class. The British ruling class has always used these traits and still does. And they have used it consistently to maintain their occupation of any part of Ireland. 

Repression always eventually leads to a reaction. Irish history is no different.That reaction  has historically taken two main forms which have sometimes worked together. One was the struggle for reforms(-ie.repeal of the penal laws, catholic emancipation, home rule, sovereignty and civil rights)  by placing pressure on the British Government to change their repression using lobbying, persuasion and eventually disobedience and mass rallies. The other was the use of violence, usually as a response to increased repression and violence from pro-state forces. That then would lead to the unleashing of sectarian violence using the advanced guards of the Orange Order and any other reactionary pro-British elements

Below is a very brief overview of how sectarianism has been used historically to limit any advantages towards any sense of reform

The colonisation of Ireland and the Plantations had divided Ireland  into two broad categories of people-the protestant planters and the native  Irish, mainly Catholic. Prior to the victory of William of Orange  at the Boyne in 1690 it is estimated that Catholics owned 22% of the land in Ireland. The new regime was in  complete control of the political social economic and cultural life in Ireland. However that Protestant Ascendancy lived in complete fear of a revival of Catholic claims and support for the Stuart cause. So they introduced the Penal Code that left the vast majority of the population in penury and misery.

“Under the heading 'Religion’ the Catholic bishops were banished completely from the country, while Parish Priests had to be ‘registered’ and also take the Oath of Abjuration. In ‘education,' Catholics were forbidden to have schools of their own or to have their children educated by Catholic teachers, while under the heading ‘property,' no Catholic could own a horse worth more than £5. They were also forbidden to buy land, and they could not lease property for more than 31 years, while at the same time having to pay a rent that was to be at least-two thirds of the annual value of the land. Neither could a Catholic become a guardian, nor could they carry arms, while the ‘Laws of Inheritance’ were also altered so that a son or daughter who adopted the Protestant Religion would become the sole heir/heiress to the property.”
“In 1719 came the most disgusted of all the Penal Laws - the castration of unregistered priests. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, Catholics were denied the vote (1727) and were not allowed to enter the army, the civil service or the legal profession.”

However the effects of the Penal Laws did not have the desired effect of destroying Catholicism  in Ireland. On the contrary it strengthened it in the eyes of the people. The Mass Rock and the Hedge Schools became buried deep in the folk memory of the people despite the sufferings endured during the 18th century. That explains why even today Catholics in the North retain an affection for Catholic Schools even in the face of clerical brutality and abuse. In the South however there is increasing liberalisation and secularism. The power of the Roman Catholic Church has been severely diminished.

During the 18th Century there were a number of minor “famines” including in 1741 the ‘Bliain an Air’ when over 300,000 died. Being a Catholic peasant then meant one was never far from death through starvation whilst still suffering from state discrimination and repression. It was no wonder that many sought protection from the many illegal gangs from a sectarian background that sprung up’

Furthermore Catholics  also had to to pay the hated “tithes “ tax to pay for the upkeep of the Anglican clergy. Presbyterians also had to pay it and was a constant source of  resentment to them.

Because of the ban on education during both the 17th and 18th century on catholics those who wished to become priests had to leave Ireland. So institutions for training priests were established across Europe. France had a concentration of these institutions. These returning priests influenced by the ideas of the countries they were trained in brought fresh thinking back to Ireland.  

The British Government was uneasy at this particularly because of the influence of “The Enlightenment” or “The Age of Reason”.The idea that reason was the primary source of authority and legitimacy totally undermined the absolute authority of both Church and State. Ideas such as liberty and religious tolerance threatened the very existence of theses institutions. All over Europe small groups discussed these new radical ideas enthused by the slogan “Sapere aude” or “dare to know”.

In Ireland the spread of radical ideas, including relatively new concepts like “liberty, equality and  fraternity” also had a profound effect on sections of the Presbyterians middle classes leading to demand for an Irish parliament and eventually, from more advanced radicals, an Irish Republic.

The loss of the American Colonies in 1775 had shaken the British establishment and  led to some easing of the penal laws from 1778 onwards. Britain had no desire to loss any more colonies especially not Ireland which could become  a base for Britain’s enemies.

The authority of both Churches and Monarchy was undermined by these ideas of The Enlightenment. The  French Revolution influenced by the Enlightenment overthrew the French monarchy and sending shivers of fear around the ruling absolute monarchs of Europe.

One side effect of the French Revolution was that the Irish seminaries in France for priests were confiscated by the State in 1792 and 1793. The Catholic Church in the form of the Irish Bishops  having no desire to see “revolutionary priests” returning from the continent petitioned the British Parliament to relax the laws against Catholic education. That government also had no desire for “revolutionary priests” either and already engaged in war with revolutionary France quickly conceded to the Bishops and 

“An Act for the better education of persons professing the Popish or Roman Catholic religion”

was passed in June 1795.With the aid of a grant from the Government,  Maynooth Seminary opened in the autumn of 1795.

 In the same year the foundation of the Orange Order also took place. It arose from  sectarian clashes  in rural Armagh and the Order committed to maintenance of the Protestant Ascendancy, gave the Government  the ideal weapon to turn on or off the sectarian tap as circumstances dictated. 

Both, Maynooth, ie the Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, and the Orange Order  have dominated Irish society for two hundred years-two bastions of reactionary thought, opposed to any and all progressive ideas that could benefit society. Even today, both opposed the fundament ideas, never mind of the French Revolution but also of The Enlightenment.

The attempt by the United Irishmen, under  Presbyterian  leadership to unite both sections under an Irish Republic was crushed by a brutal response from the British Government that used sectarian divisions to ensure that attempt failed. Both the Orange Order and the catholic secret societies participated in these events.

Indeed after the Act of Union was passed in 1801  Ireland suffered adverse economic conditions partially due to the effects of the Napoleonic Wars. These impacted on local communities. Rural areas in the North has previously seen sectarian tensions between catholic and protestants. These generally  taking the form of clashes between the Orange Order and the Ribbon-men. 

“The Ribbon Society was a Catholic secret society set up at the beginning of the 19th century as a counter part to the Protestant Orange Order which had been growing in numbers and influence across Ulster since its inception in 1795 .

The Ribbon-men  were in the traditions of "The Defenders" and "The White Boys” armed rural groups from previous generations.Their aims included resisting the Orange Order and to fight against the miserable conditions in which the vast majority of Catholic tenant farmers and rural workers lived in the early 19th century. The Ribbon Society itself was a sectarian organisation which wanted to separate from the English Government and “regain all rights lost since the Reformation “ and put down Protestantism. However it vaguely looked to the likes of Daniel O’Connell and the catholic middle classes to lead their uprising. When that failed to materialise  the Society’s two main aims became,  resisting the Orange Order and mutual aid for its members.

During the recent round of the “troubles” Belfast was the centre for much of the sectarian bitterness and violence. That was no accident.

Belfast began to grow from the beginning of the 19th century. The population that flocked to the Town from rural parts of Ulster brought with them their own religion, culture traditions and prejudices. 
However sectarian riots and disturbances were not confined to Belfast.
Between 1812 and 1815 there were sectarian riots in  Antrim, Belfast, Bangor  and Ballynahinch coinciding with a sharp decline in the living standards of weavers and factory workers. 

In Belfast the most violent districts were Sandy Row and The Pound Loney. Their residents began to come into Belfast from the beginning of the eighteen hundreds. They took with them the sectarian beliefs and passions  they had inherited from their histories. The first sectarian clashes occurred in North Street on the 12th July 1813 when Catholics attacked  Orange men outside a pub they used for their lodge. North Street Belfast was the scene of two more bitter riots the next two years

In the 1820s sectarian tensions arose probably from a number of causes. Following the establishment of Maynooth there was an increase in the number of priests by 52% between 1800 and 1835  in Ulster and an increase in the catholic middle classes. The influence of Maynooth was spreading at a time when  Protestant Ministers established the Second Reformation to convert the Catholic population.  

This in turn coincided with hysterical reactions to false prophecies of a priest called Pastorini in the 1770s who predicted the violent destruction of Protestant churches by 1825.These began to achieve prominent circulation during the famine and fever of 1817 and indeed led to violent outrages in Munster, known as the Rockite Sectarian Riots against  Protestants.

In 1822, 1824 and 1825, riots broke out on the Orange Orders 12th Marches in Belfast. In self defence members of both communities looked to the Orange Order or the Ribbon Society for protection.Fierce clashes occurred in Cavan, Monaghan,Armagh, Down, Tyrone and Derry.

Daniel O’Connell’s Catholic Emancipation campaign was organised to abolish laws that discriminated against Catholics.His mass campaign frightened the British Government into acceding to his demands because they thought Ireland would be ungovernable if they resisted. Correspondingly this frightened the protestants and caused a reaction to O’Connell’s  manifestations of catholic power. 
The violence that occurred was described as 
 “in some places amounted almost to a civil war” (Belfast Newsletter 14 July 1829) By the 1830s the Ribbon Society had 53 companies in Belfast and even as late as 1840s had over 1,000 men in the town.

However O’Connell’s Repeal campaign to repeal the Union between Britain and Ireland whilst mobilising millions failed in the face of British intransigence and petered out in an embarrassing attempt at armed rebellion  by more advanced republicans in the midst of the famine.

In the aftermath of the “Famine”and the starvation of millions and the migration of at least another million the land question became a central issue
In the North  the population was still predominantly rural-less than 15% of the population resided in towns of 2000 or more residents. In rural areas the northern tenant right associations were more moderate than the emerging land league in the South which called for the abolition of landlordism itself. It is worth noting that only 804 landlords held 80% of the land in Ulster.  Never the less, these same landlords in their political life held the allegiance of the vast majority of the rural protestant population.During the life of the Land league which used mass agitation, parliamentary pressure and occasional violence against landlords and their agents, the Orange Order was utilised to try to break boycotts of Landlords. Only recently pro-British elements from the North were utilised by banks to evict a family from their farm in County Roscommon.- the more things change?

Rather than concede Home Rule to Ireland British Tories formed an unholy alliance with Northern Unionism to resist change. Not only did they encourage mutiny in the British Army itself but advocated the  partition Ireland.  James Connolly  predicted that such an outcome would create a carnival of reaction in both  parts of Ireland. As indeed proved to be the case.  The resulting settlement saw two essentially sectarian states. Northern Nationalists were essentially imprisoned in the North under Unionism which openly encouraged discrimination,  pogroms and severe repressive measures to ensure Northern nationalists knew their place-at the back of the bus. There were pogroms in the 1920’s and in the 1930’s. There was the tricolour incident in 1964 and the establishment of the UVF in 1966 to oppose liberalisation. Back to the “protestant parliament for a protestant people” !

Meanwhile in the South both sections of the Southern Bourgoise knelt at the altar of the Roman Catholic Church. The defeats suffered by both progressive republicans and socialist within the working class movements north and south during the struggles for independence sapped the energy from those movements. Despite odd moments when some spirit was shown during the dark years from the twenties to the fifties conservatism and servility was the order of the day. During the life of the First Stormont Parliament before its dissolution in 1972 Northern nationalists succeed only once in having any legislation passed and that was on wild life. Nationalism was  under the control of the catholic church.  Sad to say despite the genuine efforts of many during those dark days to mobilise and energise  progressive movements, little progress was made. There was a general acceptance that the back of the bus was ok- at least we had a seat!
 Many of those associated with the Labour movement were content with this. It was alright to use repressive laws agains those nasty republicans but lay of the labour movement! They saw no connection between the class struggle and the national struggle.

During the Second World War the Communist Party of Northern Ireland had a newspaper, Unity. Its edition of March 13th 1943 argued not for the abolishment of the Special Powers Act (SPA) but its replacement with the British Emergency Powers Act  as a ‘fairer’ method of repression.The SPA was used almost exclusively against Irish Republicans and was much admired by the Apartheid South African Government. This was against a background of state repression of those workers who put the interests of the working class first. A plumber called Pat McKevitt was arrested and detained on 29th December  1942. A Release Committee  was established and appeals made to a wide section of organisations. One of those organisations was the Belfast and District Trades Council.
The Belfast Telegraph  carried a report of the meeting to discuss this appeal .

Miss Betty Sinclair  moving that the  deputation be not received said she understood the authorities intended to send McKevitt back over the border. The Trotskyist movement were against the war effort and its politics were not of the working class.” Miss Sinclair knew before McKevitt, his wife or his solicitor that he was to be deported.Who told her?

Of course the republican movement itself did not exactly cover itself with glory during the fifty years of the First Stormont Parliament. It flirted with fascism for a brief period, it refused to  allow its members to participate in workers struggle during the thirties (except for a brief period) and totally ignored the Unemployed Workers movement in Dublin during the fifties. Operation Harvest during the latter part of the fifties and early sixties made no effort to appeal to class conscious workers. The then IRA  was stuck in a militaristic mindset.

The turn to the left in the late sixties by the republican movement coincided with a growing anti-imperialist and left wing swing world wide. The emergence of the civil rights  movements was  not just a spontaneous movement that arose from nowhere. It was the culmination of steady work by many activists in different parts over many years and from all and no political backgrounds and also influenced by the civil rights movement in the USA and agitators like Martin Luther King.  It did not and does not belong to any particular party-neither to the SDLP, Sinn Fein, the Communist Party, Official Sinn Fein nor Peoples Democracy. It was for a brief moment in history a mass movement that started to change society.

In the Southern states of the USA Blacks were discriminated against to prevent them from voting. King organised three Selma to Montgomery. The first was 
attacked by state troopers with tear gas and billy clubs(sound familiar?) and was known as “Bloody Sunday”. The final march took  over three days and was protected by Federal agents. The route of that march is now designated as a USA National Historic Trail. 

The question that all those who criticised the Long March to Derry as “coat -trailing” “provocative” “ sectarian”and “ultra left” etc etc should ask themselves is,  ‘do these words not equally apply to those who organised Selma to Montgomery including Martin Luther King. Were these three marches going through white areas not racist,  ultra leftist, provocative coat-trailing?’

 It is worth pointing out that during all the period of the Marches blacks were being killed by white supremacists.

When O’Neill made his “Ulster at the Crossroads” Speech in early December 1968 just over a week after Paisley and Bunting’s thugs had occupied the centre of Armagh his plea was  crouched in moderate terms but with the threat of force behind it
“In Londonderry and other places recently a minority of agitators determined to subvert lawful authority played a part in setting light to highly inflammable 
material. But the tinder for that fire in the form of grievances real or imaginary had been piling up for years.”

“we must tackle root causes if this agitation is to be contained. We must be able to say to the moderates of both sides: Come with us into a new era of co-operation and leave the extremists to the law.

But this I also say to all Protestant or Roman Catholic, Unionist or Nationalist:- Disorder must now cease. We are taking the necessary measures to strengthen our Police Forces. Determined as we are to act with absolute fairness we will also be resolute in restoring respect for the laws of the land.”

I ask you now with all sincerity to call your people off the streets and allow an atmosphere favourable to change to develop. You are Ulstermen yourselves. You know we are all of us stubborn people who will not be pushed too far. I believe that most of you want change, not revolution. Your voice has been heard and clearly heard. Your duty now is to play your part in taking the heat out of the situation before blood is shed.

Naturally the so called centre ground rallied to the cause. The media backed his call as did voices within nationalism. For example the leader of the then Nationalist Party accepted  the reforms on the basis that half a loaf was better than no bread. But it was because of that attitude over the years that nationalism itself had been repressed.They had been bought off  by crumbs from the table.What Eddie Mc Ateer did not realise was that the younger generation were no longer prepared to accept second class citizenship. 

 O’Neill believed if they treated catholics as equals they would stopped having 12 or thirteen children and behave like “good protestants”. Visiting a convent and patronising Catholics is not political leadership. Ulster Unionism whether under the UUP or the DUP has never accepted nationalists as equal citizenships within the northern state. Yes, it was a cold house for nationalists but we still await an apology for 50 years of discrimination, repressive laws and sectarianism from the leaders of Unionism. Since Burntollet nothing has changed in Unionism.

Unemployment,emigration, discrimination, the British National Anthem in the cinema, the signing of a oath to the British monarch to become a teacher, the  mocking of Irish culture, the anti-popery tirades from papers and pulpits and the yearly ‘Croppy lie down’ parades from ‘kick the Pope’ bands and the  dominant Orange culture that existed 50 years ago, all added in small and diverse ways to create, within many young people, a desire for radical change.  

This combined with the youth culture of the sixties and the spirit of rebellion around the world created  a rebellious streak in many. (Do we notice too much change today?)

Hence the decision to go ahead with the Long March To Derry. For us it would be a test of the so called moderate position. Would or could the RUC protect our democratic right to protest?  Of course there was opposition.
Tommy McKearney, an ex ira volunteer and now a political activist speaks approvingly of Betty Sinclair’s opposition to the so called ‘ultra lefts’-meaning Peoples Democracy , and Tommy says we should have worked ‘sedately’ to build a ‘broad base’ for reforms in her words! This is the same person who supported more ‘moderate’ repression during the war and supported the deportation of working class activists. As a former Sinn Fein activists wrote recently

“Her ‘experience’ had taught her political timidity and conservatism and always to avoid the radical option.  Her position, mirroring that of her organisation, was one of abject reformism in relation to the six-county state.  Tommy used to know stuff like this, so I’m sad to see him engaged in deciding to forget it.”

Retrospectively,Tommy, a man who has many fine qualities and for whom I have great admiration, has accepted the Communist Party line on the whole civil rights struggle. He even suggests, mistakenly in this writers opinion,  that the Provisional IRA favoured reforms up until Bloody Sunday. My clear recollection of that period is that Provos bitterly attacked the Civil rights struggle as reformist and it was national rights not civil rights they were after . How could it have been otherwise when their leadership was bitterly attacking the Goulding  Official IRA for been “communist”and for advocating setting up a National Liberation Front.
The first edition of Republican News carried the following

“It is the duty of every republican to assist in the build up of a strong movement of resistance to British interference in Irish Affairs. There must be an effective well co-ordinated disciplined national struggle for freedom and National re-unification.”

This hardly sounds like a reformist strategy nor did the sound of 153 bombs exploding during 1970 sound like a solid endorsement of the civil rights strategy of non violence.   However it is clear that it was the initial violence of the Unionist state, its loyalist allies and the armed actions of the British army that drove the civil rights movement of the streets. Bloody Sunday was the final straw.

Indeed is it not an historic irony that the two biggest opponents of the civil rights struggle were  those who went on to establish the Democratic Unionist Party and Provisional Sinn Fein and who  eventually established a British sectarian administration at Stormont better remembered for its sectarianism and ‘jobs for the boys’ approach. 

Another critic of the PD decision to go ahead with the march was Kevin McCorry a civil rights activist, quoted approvingly by  Deaglan de Breadun (Irish News 18/6/18), speaking at the same meeting as Tommy McKearney in November 2018 in Dublin

 “the political effects were disastrous” because it sharpened the polarisation between the two communities.

The evidence for this  is very thin on the ground. From the start Unionist politicians whipped up their supporters against the implementation of democratic rights. Marches were opposed before January 1st 1969 . Thugs roamed the streets in opposition to democratic rights. A bomb blew up a republican monument in Toome on the 2nd of January 1969. On the contrary the evidence is clear that on the issue of civil rights Unionism was unbending. As indeed they still are today on the issues  of equality.

As a result of the events from, in particular October the 5th 1968, but also because of the activities of many great activists before then-the Unionist hierarchy under Terence O’Neill in mid December made his “ At the Cross roads  speech” in which he appealed for a halt to the civil rights campaign. Moderate nationalism and members of the CPNI wanted to accede to O’Neills call to get of the streets.

But as Bernadette Devlin said,

Our function in marching from Belfast to Derry's to break the truce,to relaunch the civil rights movements mass movement and to show people that O’Neill was,in fact,offering them nothing. What we really wanted to do was pull the carpet off the floor to show the dirt that was under it so that we could sweep it up”

Before the march itself PD pointed out that both the entire civil rights movement and the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson had condemned the November  68  reforms announced by O’Neill as inadequate.

“-we are demanding  not privileges but rights and that in marching to Derry we are merely exercising another fundamental democratic right”

When the leadership of PD decided to go ahead with the Burntollet march we had no faith in the “good intentions” of Unionism. We were right then. When we were physically attacked by 200 loyalists b”specials and right wing reactionaries there was no condemnation of the attackers from Unionism - part of whose leadership helped organise that attack. Instead we-the victims of a vicious sectarian attack on 18 to 24 year old students marching for equal  rights  were condemned — the start of a culture of blaming the victims. 

In the 50 years since the Burntollet ambush Unionism of what ever variety has continued to act as if nothing has changed from the 1920s. “Fenians” are “rascals rogues or ruffians”  who need to be “house trained” or worse. 

Unionism never had any intention of dismantling the sectarian nature of the state in 1968. The ultimate responsibility for the so called ‘troubles’ lies with those who had authority over the six counties. Many organisations and individuals participated in many of the events since October 1968. Mistakes were made. Many people died. 

But this writer is clear -the Long March to Derry was no mistake. It was the right thing to do.  Passivity in the face of injustice and tyranny is no virtue.
In  1968 it was time to call out Northern Ireland for what it was- a sectarian state that was incapable of reform. Burntollet exposed that clearly. 

Monday, 18 December 2017

The Red Plough


December  2017

Brexit and the Irish border. 


One phone call from Arlene Foster to the British prime minister Theresa May was enough to halt a deal the between the key European Union and  British government already agreed on Monday 4th December2017.

Arlene Foster is the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, right wing with its roots in the anti-Catholicism of its former leader Ian Paisley. It is also anti-abortion, anti-gay and deeply reactionary. Arlene Foster  presided over the Ash for Cash scandal. Currently there is a public enquiry into how that fiasco came about.

It was also her actions that lead to Sinn Fein walking away from the power-sharing executive, now in limbo for nearly a year (but with the members still receiving their salaries). 

With no executive in place, Arlene Foster is a leader with little or no power. Her deputy leader, Nigel Dodds,unlike Foster MLA , is one of the 10 DUP members of the Westminster Parliament. Because of their agreement with the Tories he is the real power within the DUP. Having negotiated for nearly 3 weeks last summer,  the DUP managed to screw 1 billion pounds out of the Tories (and the British Tax payers) in return for supporting the weakened Tories after last summer’s British General Election. 

After four more days of negotiations and pressure on the DUP eventually on early Friday Morning the 8th of December  2017 the British and European negotiators agreed a joint communique. Mrs May signed (or shook gentlemanly hands on hands on it ) despite Arlene Foster advising her not to.
That agreement has now allowed Britain to enter  trade talks with the EU, which was what they really wanted along.

Unfortunately for the British Government there was the little matter of the Irish Border. The Brexiteers in their haste to leave Europe, restrict immigration and lower the living standards of the working class had done little preparation and were unprepared for the resistance to their Brexit  plans from the Irish Government. 

The veto

That the Irish Government would have the full endorsement of the EU also shocked the British side. The EU effectively gave Ireland a veto over the whole issue of the border. Partially that was a reward to the Irish ruling class for their slavish adherence to the policies of the IMF, the World Bank and the EU in the years following the banking crisis of 2008. Then the Irish Government bankrolled the bond holders and imposed severe austerity measures on the working class to fund the bankers. So why wouldn’t Europe back the Irish. They do their masters bidding.

Capitalism is in crisis in Europe-in Britain and in the United States. Out of that crisis has emerged two distinct tendencies. The one represented by the emergence of Trump backed by the alt-right elitists in the USA and by the rise of the hard right populism in  Holland, Austria , Hungry and other areas of Europe is  best expressed in Britain by the Brexit wing of the Tory Party backed by their allies on the far right  and by the DUP. It is ant-migrant, for lower taxes for the rich,and the unfettered sway of capital.  It tends to be both racist,militaristic, nationalistic and pro imperialistic. 

The other tendency while it is also neo-liberal recognises the importance of keeping a lid on the anger of the working class as the rate of exploitation of labour has to be increased. It is best represented in Europe by the EU itself. The  inclusion of  social democrat parties within their consensus keeps the working class in check as also does the social programmes of the EU.

Both the experience of Syria and the Irish Labour Party’s participation in austerity shows how successful that strategy has been. It also has the added advantage of disillusioning the working class in so called socialist parties which are in reality are left reformist parties which pose no real challenge to Capitalism. Both the emergence of Sanders in the USA and Corbyn in Britain has certainly popularised the ideas of socialism among new layers of the working class particularly among the youth. But the established leaders of the left in the reformist parties and in the trade unions usually caution against revolutionary ideas and have lost the will to carry on a class struggle.They prefer  words like ‘consensus,' ‘partnership’  ‘conciliation’ ‘accommodation’ and ‘coalition’.

The Border 

The Irish border is now nearly 100 years in existence and has been a running sore for nationalists in the North since it was established. To ensure a protestant majority for Unionism the new Northern Ireland State  was composed of 6 counties with most of the Unionist support in the East counties of Down, Antrim, Armagh and Eastern parts of  county Derry. Those areas along the border were mainly nationalist, particularly in the West. 
Southern Unionists, particularly in County Donegal were abandoned to the New Free State much to the anger of
Lord Carson who had fronted opposition to Home Rule and who in later life admitted that Unionism had simply been used by the Tory Party to achieve power.

The vast majority of Northern Nationalists, had during the struggle for Irish independence, kept faith in the old nationalist party under Redmond and there was little support, comparatively speaking, for De Valera’s Sinn Fein. Indeed there was  a bitter rivalry, between Northern nationalism(which is well represented by the slogan “For Faith and Fatherland”)  and Irish Republicanism, which sometimes exploded in violence. 

But with partition and the failure of the Boundary Commission to change parts of partitions so that some nationalists could join the Irish Free State both parts of nationalism in the North became sullen and resentful at their exclusion from the Free State.They felt abandoned and left to suffer discrimination, pogroms unemployment and second class citizenship under the reactionary Unionist Government. 

That resentment and bitterness was past on to succeeding generations and eventually exploded during the late sixties both in the rise in the civil rights movement and then in the rise of the Provisional IRA and their eventually metamorphous into the bourgeois nationalist party,  Sinn Fein with some social democratic tendencies. 

They fought electorally with the SDLP to win the support of the middle class sections of northern nationalism articulating the astounding proposition that the armed struggle had only been about equality. That electoral struggle they won and for ten years actually administrated the Northern statelet in tandem with the DUP whose members refused to talk socially with Sinn Fein members and mocked and insulted Irish culture. But both these bitter enemies  implemented Tory  austerity policies in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein were happy with this arrangement. However the arrogance of the DUP and their  reactionary outlook eventually sapped the will of northern nationalists to accommodate to bigotry and Sinn Fein were forced to bring down the power sharing executive in January 2017.

But Brexit changed every thing. The vote for Brexit saw division between England and Wales for and Scotland and Northern Ireland against. The peace process had effectively dismantled the military border and the joint membership of the European Union meant that between Britain and the Republic of Ireland there were no  real economic or custom borders. 

People along the border no longer had 30 or 40  miles diversions to cross the border nor was there any longer huge delays at checkpoints. Many worked  in one jurisdiction while living in the other. 

The catholic middle class was doing very nicely from the Peace Process.Towns like Newry, Strabane and Derry City, all within   six miles of the border and all with very high historical unemployment and emigration, are currently areas of high economic activity and attract many cross border shoppers. Also politically nationalism is currently close to catching up numbers wise to unionism. Sadly the numbers game has been ruthlessly exploited by nationalists and unionists expressed locally as “us-ones against them-ones”

The funding from the EU to Peace programmes to cement the whole Peace process has from 1998 amounting to Billions  going to ex-political prisoners,  marginalised groups, peace line communities, the farming community, and businesses.
For example during the current Peace programs  for the period 2014 to 2020 the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation is 229.1million euro. 
Europe has, it could be argued, done more to cement the Peace Process than either the British or Irish Governments. Indeed both seemed to think that it was all settled in the North. Far indeed from it.

The British Tory Government has worked in tandem with Unionism for the last 10 years at least and abandoned any pretend to be  neutral between nationalism and unionism On partially every issue it has sided with the DUP. On the other hand in the same period the Irish Government has been hands-off the North. So much so that 200  northern nationalists from the cultural, legal and sporting fields penned an open letter to the Taoiseach  on Monday 11th of December  2017 . That was unprecedented as most public figures in the North refrain from making any political statements.

 Perhaps surprisingly the Taoiseach replied immediately the next day re-assuring them that his commitment to the Good Friday Agreement was total. Then his Foreign Affairs Minister, tanaiste Simon Coveney won more concessions from the EU in that the republic would have a distinct strand in phase two of the negotiations-the trade talks.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was only elected so last summer and has raised the profile of his right wing Fine Gael  so much so that his Party now have a big lead over the rival Fianna  Fail party.  
The perception is that he stood up to the British over the Border issue and won commitments that there would be no hard border. However Britain has not followed through on its commitments following both the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement. Was it not Lord Palmerston in the 19th century who said something  like “Britain has no friends only interests” .
Irish nationalism has always remembered this and never forgets. Ulster Unionism for its part never remembers. British Governments always betray.
So it is clear  that knowing this, the EU will hold Britain to its commitments.

The consequences of a Hard Border 

That a right wing pro-economic  liberalism and traditionally pro British Fine Gael party would “stand up” to Britain is a reflection of how fearful they are of the political and economic consequences. 

On the economic front  the Central Bank of the Republic has just released a report, 2017 Macro Financial Review (2nd ed.) on the possible consequences. Brexit would hit export demands and disrupt the supply change. Particularly vulnerable are the agri-food sector and  the manufacturing sector. Both of these are highly dependent on the UK for trade. Delays at borders would mean a knock on increase in prices for Irish shoppers. Many Irish firms have high levels of indebtedness and could be deterred from investment. Also Irish  retail banks have  significant exposure in the UK market and a slow down in the UK’s economy would hit them hard. If  foreign firms decided to locate from Britain to Ireland to access the EU then the impact on property prices in Dublin would heap further pressure on the property market both residential and commercial.  The residential market  in Dublin is current out of the reach of most Dubliners now forced to re-locate more than 50 miles from their work or live with the parents and in-laws in cramped conditions. Those who do have mortgages are increasing at risk from debt and rising interest rates. There have been numerous evictions in the Dublin area with homelessness at its highest ever level in decades.

In the UK itself inflation has now creeped up to 3.1% away above the target of 2%. This is increasing inflationary pressure on working people and the relatively fall in migration now meant that areas like health and the agri-food sectors have about shortages. Brexit will not ease these pressures in either jurisdiction.


Brexit has created division between sections of the British ruling class and the Irish ruling class. It  has exacerbated the division between unionism (for) and nationalism(against). It has seen a huge increase in racist attacks across the British isles and lead to huge fears within migrants populations.    

A rise in either British or Irish nationalism is never a good thing. In Britain  its extreme manifestations in UKIP and Britain First spread hatred and fear, divides workers and plays to the interests of sections of British capitalism.Within Ireland apart from creating even more divisions between catholic and protestant workers it plays into the hands  of armed militant nationalist groups that learn little from history. A hard border would see the renewal of armed attacks on all symbols associated with that border and elicit sympathy and support from sections of  nationalism at a time when there is little enthusiasm  for the armed dissidents. 

Neither brexit nor THE EU

The alternative to nationalism is internationalism.Neither brexit nor the EU can solve the current crisis of capitalism. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone and still have much left over but capitalism accumulates and puts wealth into he hands of a few while the many starve. Both sides of the Brexit argument believe in and advocate capitalism. But it is that very capitalism that causes war, famine racism and slavery. For socialists the fight against capitalism begins in their own country for  

“The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie. “(The Communist Manifesto)

If we are ever to overcome all the manifestations of  capitalism then we need to patiently explain to workers  that neither Brexit nor any other alternatives will solve the problems of the world. We all live in the world and what affects workers anywhere affects workers every where. 

The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. 
They have a world to win.
Working Men of All Countries, Unite!

Gerry Ruddy 13/12/17