Socialist Appeal - British section of the International Marxist Tendency: the Marxist voice of labour and youth.

We republish here an article by Gerry Ruddy, originally written for the Red Plough, which looks at the politics of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein, who have accepted the capitalist system and ignored the class question in relation to the north of Ireland.

We republish here an article by Gerry Ruddy, originally written for the Red Plough, which looks at the politics of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein, who have accepted the capitalist system and ignored the class question in relation to the north of Ireland.


Following the broadcasting of a programme on “The Disappeared”  in 2013, there had been much speculation about the future of the current President of Provisional Sinn Fein, a Mr. Adams. The programme itself dealt with the fate of a number of individuals who were secretly killed and buried by the Provisional IRA (PIRA). Among those who were “disappeared” was a Mrs Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 children all under the age of 16 when she was killed. Rather than admit her killing the PIRA in Belfast put out rumours she was alive in the Shankill living with a man. Imagine the children thinking they had been abandoned by their mother! No one went to the aid of those 10 children. It was decades before the PIRA admitted they had killed her. 

It would be safe to assume that the leadership of the PIRA had sanctioned the policy of “disappearing.”  That policy was wrong, inhumane and to all intent and purpose, a war crime. It left relatives in the dark as to the fate of their loved ones. It left them with a gaping hole in their lives without the opportunity, for decades, to mourn.

It also blackened Irish Republicanism. Many volunteers in the IRA joined to take part in a struggle for the establishment of an Irish Republic on the island of Ireland. We can disagree with the tactics they used but many felt that the national question could only be resolved through the use of armed force. Their intentions may have been genuine, their commitment to their cause unquestionable and their revolutionary ardour unequalled but they were betrayed by their leadership who led them them up the garden path.

In the early 1970’s their leaderships promised them a quick victory. 74 was to be the year of victory. That of course was a nonsense. By 1977 by his own words Mr. Adams was already beginning “peace talks.” Unfortunately he forgot to tell IRA volunteers this and they continued to engage in armed struggle for a further 17 years in which many people lost their lives. 

So there is a long history of Mr. Adams. What one can say is that Mr.Adams is a proven liar.

Mr. Adams denies being ever in the IRA. A lie. He was. Mr Adams denies having anything to do with the policy of the disappeared. A lie. He ordered the disappearance of at least Jean McConville. He protected his paedophile brother for years. Mr. Adams also abandoned every position he had held as a republican.

Smash Stormont! No to partition. No participation in partitionist parliaments. No decommissioning.” No talks until internment ends” etc etc etc.  

However Mr. Adams is really not the problem. It is the Provo Sinn Fein politics that is the problem. When they were set up the Official Republican Movement (later to degenerate into the Workers Party) called them the Provisional Alliance.

There was a strong element of truth in that description. It was an alliance of of traditional type republicans, rural nationalists, angry working class youths and some with left wing background. Their initial statements were almost entirely based on anti-communism with a strong Catholic conservative bias so it was no wonder that the free State Government courted elements of their leadership and tried to encourage republicans to “take out" the leftist leadership of the Officials. Indeed until about 1975 Free State Intelligence services concentrated mainly on the “Sticks” and basically ignored the Provos.  Socialism was a bigger threat to the Southern establishment than armed nationalists.

It was the concept of nationalism that has come to dominate within PSF.

All those who clung to basic republican principles were gradually sidelined, demonised, dismissed, or worse. A mind set was established within the ranks of the PIRA and Provisional Sinn Fein of tight Stalinist-like control by a tiny kitchen cabinet who dictated every u-turn and reversal of policy. Having been convinced by  John Hume and his clerical allies of the benefits of a pan-nationalist front involving the SDLP, PSF, the Irish Government and conservative Irish America that kitchen cabinet turned a genuine liberation struggle into a struggle for equality (a SDLP position) under British hegemony.

The ghosts of Daniel O’Connell and John Redmond have embraced Sinn Fein who now walk in their shadow! They have inherited the mantle of Daniel O'Connell and John Redmond! Their acceptance of the capitalist system, their courting of multi-nationals and their dropping of any serious socialist ideas (only adopted to channel working class militancy) and their hounding and slandering of those who do not accept their volte face all shows how they had bought, or been bought, into the capitalist system. They stole the clothes of the SDLP!

They did a dirty squalid sectarian deal to gain power in the North but that power is illusionary. They can administer as long as the DUP agree. But unfortunately for them Unionism has decided to renege on their commitments to the Good Friday Agreement and are now trying to turn the tide back towards Orange rule again. Thus there has been little agreement over the past few years. The paralysis in Stormont has lead to increasing disillusionment among large sections  of the population and pushed more of them into entrenched sectarian positions. More protests about flags than the dismantling of the National health Service. So much for the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter once articulated by the Adams loyalists. No, the real power rests where it always has - with the British ruling class. 

The fall out from the Downey affair was a classic illustration of the shaky institutions of the Northern State and of the dis-honourable compromises  made by the Adams republicans.

John Downey was an Irish Republican who joined the IRA. As a member of that organisation he probably took part in armed operations. He was arrested in Britain over  a year ago and charged in connection with the Hyde Park Bombing . However he was released when it emerged he had been given, by mistake a letter from the PSNI saying he was not wanted for questioning either in Ireland or Britain. 

The letter was part of a procedure established as part of the peace process to allow the return of the “On the Runs” i.e. those republicans who thought they may be arrested for armed activities.

Outrage was expressed at Downey’s release by British and Unionist politicians who claimed not to know about the procedure. Peter Robinson, leader of the DUP and First Minister, threatened to resign if there was not a judicial Review in to the whole issue and if the letters to nearly two hundred “on the runs” were not withdrawn. However the quick decision by Cameron to appoint a judge to review the paper work took the heat out of the situation and let Robinson to boast he had won.

The reality is of course different. The procedure for the On the runs had been known all along by unionists.

On the 22nd of June 2007 The  Belfast Telegraph ran an article by Chris Thornton in which he wrote:

“Dozens already cleared to return but 'no plans for fresh legislation'

84 OTRs - the initials stand for on the runs - have already been cleared to return to Northern Ireland without facing jail time, according to statistics released to the Belfast Telegraph by the Attorney General's office.

That includes almost 50 people who spent at least a decade on the run but who were never wanted in the first place.

Material released under the Freedom of Information Act shows the number of OTRs is far higher than previous estimates.

The names of almost 200 people have been passed to the Government by Sinn Fein over the past seven years, while London wrestled with mechanisms to allow them to return.”

For public consumption Unionist has pretended they did not know about the procedure yet only a year ago Gerry Kelly speaking about the Downey case said there was a letter telling Downy he was not wanted for questioning, yet Unionism did not respond. So why now? 

Over the past year 15 months loyalist have been protesting on the streets about the flying of the Union Flag only on designated days in Belfast City Council. Elections for local councils and the European parliament are coming up in May.

Robinson lost his Westminster Seat when, after the revelations about shady property deals, sections of the UDA supported the Alliance Party whose candidate subsequently won the seat. The DUP fear the loss of control of the more extreme elements in loyalism hence their support for the flag protests and allowing one of their members, Ruth Patterson to condone and collaborate with loyalist sectarianism. They fear loyalism will swing behind the Traditional Unionist Voice of Jim Allister who is a formidable voice for traditional unionism and a bitter opponent of the DUP of which he was once a leading member. So in East Belfast in a signal to Loyalism the DUP parachuted in Snowy White-an ex prisoner strongly connected to the UDA -as a candidate for them.

The UDA’S main opponents in loyalism is the UVF who are closely associated with the Progressive Unionist Party. Its current leader is Billy Hutchinson who only recently boasted that his killing of two Catholics had helped prevent a United Ireland. 

 Further-more under his leadership the PUP have turned a blind eye to the drug dealing and sectarian attacks of the East Belfast UVF. The anti-republican and pro unionist Socialist Party who had provided leftist cover for Hutchinson by inviting him on its public platform should hang their heads in shame! 

Unionism is in crisis and in a state of denial. An Alliance MLA has been attacked for correctly pointing out that Northern Ireland is an artificial state and a colony. There is an obsession with the symbols  of Britishness and  denial of the rights of Nationalists 

On the republican side, it is clear, that the ONR’s policy was only to be applied to Adams loyalists.  The recent arrest and charging of Ivor Bell, in relation to the Jean McConville disappearance is a case in point. Bell a former chief of staff of the IRA disagreed with the Adams electoral line in the early eighties and was dismissed from the IRA. Recently he was supporting republican independent candidates for forthcoming elections. And lo and behold he was arrested and charged. Coincidence or what?

Given that Adam's name was the one freely bandied about as having ordered the execution of Jean McConville is this not strange?

There was an agreement between the Brits and Adam’s Kitchen Cabinet, that only supporters of the Adams leadership would receive letters. Neither the INLA members, who were on the run, were involved nor those so called dissidents who split from the Provos. Such a deal besmirched republicanism as indeed had acts of decommissioning by republicans, acceptance of the PSNI and helping to run the Northern state. And of course as to be expected the Brits reneged on the deal.

All around there are clear signs that neither the British nor the Unionists have any desire to keep their part of the Good Friday Agreement. Both the legal system and the PSNI show a strong unionist bias. The Irish language is ridiculed by the Loyal orders and there is no chance of an Irish Language Act. Republican prisoners are brutalised through regular strip searches. Housing policy is changing to ensure that Unionism retains majorities where they already hold seats. Racist and sectarian attacks are now almost a daily occurrence. 

Police Service of Northern Ireland: Incidents and Crimes with a Hate Motivation Recorded by the Police in Northern Ireland: Quarterly Update to 30 June 2013 Published 29 August 2013

The rulings of the Parade Commission are daily ignored by loyalist marches and paramilitary jeeps with masked supporters recently took part in a March towards Ardoyne a deprived nationalist ghetto. As Republican Socialists had predicted many years ago the Good Friday Agreement has failed. It has strengthened sectarianism divided working people and cemented British rule in ireland 

In politics there is always room to change ones’ mind or position. Even revolutionaries sometimes must give ground in the face of overwhelming odds.  There is no dishonour in taking steps back. There is no dishonour in admitting mistakes or accepting that tactics are not working.

But it is wrong to lie deceive and hoodwink those who are prepared to die for their cause. Honesty is not some bourgeois habit. It is essential for those who want to change society.

 It is essential  for republicans to acknowledge that republicanism has suffered a serious defeat. Both the campaigns waged by the Provo IRA and the INLA failed.  Any armed campaign based mainly on the passive support of sections of the northern catholic working class is always bound to fail. Furthermore developments in technology mean more and more activists will be caught and jailed or killed.  Time and time again history has shown that armed struggles in Ireland always end in defeat. Armed republicanism may have a “glorious” history in some people’s eyes but it also “glorious” defeat!

However it is not merely enough to decry those who still adhere to an armed struggle and point out is futility. As Joe Hill is reported to have said, “don’t mourn organise.”

That also includes showing how other approaches, rather than armed struggle, work. The fantastic responses around Europe by the masses against austerity measures show positive examples of how things can be. As yet, opposition to austerity in both parts of Ireland has been patchy and disorganised. The left seems incapable of creating a unified mass movement because of the political sectarian attitudes of their leaderships. 

The creation of a revolutionary leadership is a major task facing the left. Republicanism if it to have any relevance must become part of the building of such a leadership. While Republicanism is divided and has little support within the broad section of the population it still remains a valid revolutionary tendency. However Republicanism must identify with the needs and aspirations of the mass of working people. Elitist ideas and attitudes, whether from Republicans or Marxists, do nothing to advance progressive ideas in Ireland.  

The ideas of James Connolly still retain a freshness and relevance today. 

Ireland has a number of political groupings and Parties that adhere to an ideology that they call “Republican Socialism” or “Socialist Republicanism.”. Indeed it is difficult to find any republican organisation that does not have as its aim the establishment of a Socialist Republic. All claim that they are in the tradition of James Connolly. Connolly’s definition of what a Republic would be was clear succinct and unambiguous.

“Establishment of AN IRISH SOCIALIST REPUBLIC based upon the public ownership by the Irish people of the land, and instruments of production, distribution and exchange. Agriculture to be administered as a public function, under boards of management elected by the agricultural population and responsible to them and to the nation at large. All other forms of labour necessary to the well-being of the community to be conducted on the same principles.”

He laid out a very clear template for both Republicans and Socialists of his time what that struggle for a Republic should be. Without changing the essential ownership of the means of production then:

“If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts will be in vain. England will still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs”. - James Connolly, from Socialism and Nationalism in Shan Van Vocht, January 1897

That quotation has been repeated numerous times by republican socialists (including this author) to justify opposition to the many attempts since 1916 to “settle the Irish Question”.  

The greatness of Connolly was that he saw clearly that the class and national question were intertwined. Time has proven him correct.

Ever effort to solve the so called “Irish question” has so far failed. The class and national question are intertwined. Neglecting either is to sink into reformism or ultra leftism. Neither approach serves the interests of the working class. The national question is a class question.

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