Rejecting the Right-wing

by Tommy McKearney

How serious is the far-right threat in Ireland today? The question is being widely discussed due to a series of high-profile protests. At first these were outside asylum seekers’ accommodation and more recently targeting Sinn Fein TDs. Prominent members of fascist organisations have taken part in these demonstrations. It is not yet clear, however, whether they have organised all the events or joined in opportunistically. Whichever is the case, it is a disturbing development that demands a response. 

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It is, however, necessary to put into perspective the definition of ‘far-right’. Is it only those nasty, uncouth neo-nazis or does it not include a wider spectrum of ultra right-wingers? What for example about a party founded by an avowed supporter of Hitler who recruited mercenaries for General Franco? A party that has presided for the past decade over a cruel anti-working class neoliberal agenda. A party, don’t forget, that has been kept in power during much of that period by the equally profit driven Fianna Fail.

First though, it is important to analyse the background and context for these dangerous protests. In order to do so we need to look at this situation in a global setting before dealing with its specific Irish manifestation. 

There has always existed reactionary right-wing political currents for so long as capitalism has controlled the principal means of production. At certain periods in history this has become more aggressive than at other times. We are currently experiencing one such period. Trump’s followers in the United States, Europe’s Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy or Jair Bolsonaro’s riotous supporters are but the most strident practitioners of the trend. Moving in tandem with this tendency is a NATO led warmongering alliance that is willing to risk nuclear holocaust in order to retain its economic dominance.

The underlying cause for this rising tide of ultra aggressive reaction is due to problems threatening capitalism’s hegemony. The current neoliberal phase was launched during the Thatcher/Reagan era. What had always been an unequal and brutal economic system, saw  the USA and European Union abandoned even the limited checks and balances afforded by post-war Keynesianism and the welfare state. Neoliberalism became the order of the day

For just over two decades the system appeared unchallengeable. Then came the economic crash of 2008. Capitalism globally experienced a crisis and responded by cosseting the wealthy while hurting working people. Central bankers provided cheap money to financial institutions generating a boom for stockbrokers and speculators. Yet all the while social welfare and wages were pared to the bone as working class communities were hammered by austerity. Free-market led governments simply made Labour pay for mistakes made by Capital. 

Nor has the Irish working class been spared this assault on living conditions.

There is a free-market created housing emergency, the tip of which is marked by tens of thousands of homeless people. This, the most visible aspect of the crisis, tends to obscure the still greater numbers living precariously in rented accommodation. The need for decisive action to instigate a large-scale programme of public housing is painfully obvious. Yet despite experience of the value of this measure in the past, the coalition parties refuse to act. Adding insult to injury, the Fine Gael leader is now lamenting the withdrawal of some private landlords from the rental market claiming this reduces the number of properties available for those in need.

Adding to the misery caused by a housing crisis we have also experienced the virtual collapse of the public health service in the Republic. Day after day the media, both mainstream and social, report on the dire situation in our overrun, under-staffed and under-resourced public hospitals and care-sector. No such problems are faced by those able to afford private health facilities. Rubbing salt into this wound is frequent TV advertisements reminding the public that the costly private sector has sufficient capacity to treat paying patients immediately on admission.

Under such conditions of hardship and despair it is little surprise that some misguided individuals would unthinkingly vent their anger in the wrong direction. Let us be absolutely clear about something though. The issues fuelling these dangerously reactionary protests, and thereby opening the door for far-right exploitation, have been created by those who have governed over recent decades.

The problems giving rise to the protests did not suddenly emerge over the past few months and certainly not with the arrival of those fleeing war in Eastern Europe or the Middle-East. In common with other free-market economies, the Republic is experiencing the unavoidable consequences of decades of unbridled neoliberalism.

Consequently it is, not only wrong to blame asylum seekers for the dire conditions and in which we find ourselves. It is also a profoundly mistaken direction to take in order to protest genuine injustices. As a recent statement from the Peadar ODonnell Socialist Republican Forum pointed out; asylum seekers and refugees are not responsible for the collapsing public health services, money grabbing landlordism, non availability of public housing, poor wages or no job security. 

The blame lies with the Irish elite; the landlords both corporate and local, the employers who pay slave wages and those who govern over this state of affairs. People are right to be angry but must make sure to hit the right target i.e. the  1% who run and control our lives. The solution is to change the system thats at fault, not to blame those who are not responsible.

While the right-wing ruling class must carry full responsibility for creating the hardship now impacting working-class communities, it is nevertheless necessary to assess the role of the fascist far-right. It is important not to dismiss them as mere bit-players. Because, while the powerful may publicly condemn their violence, they will often privately condone and quietly support it. They do so for the crude reason that they see the fascists playing a useful role in fracturing working class unity. 

Such unity is a prerequisite in order to answer the dire situation in which working people now find ourselves. Only a socialist economy built within a Workers Republic will provide the means to do so. To bring this about requires a politically literate and united working class. It is this unity that the fascist endeavour to shatter through employing crude reactionary populist strategies. Our task in the short term must be to combat this tactic by working energetically with the anti-war movement on one hand and simultaneously intensify efforts to strengthen unity among the working-class. By doing so we can defeat the fascists and their rapacious patrons.

As a parting word, a couple of appropriate lines from the late Woody Guthrie:

Yes sir, all of you fascists bound to lose:

You're bound to lose! You fascists:

Bound to lose!

This article first  appeared in Socialist Voice February 2023 

Ireland neutral from the centre to the sea

by Tommy McKearney

Speaking in Limerick recently, Micheál Martin said Ireland (i.e. the 26 County part) will have to reflect on its long-standing policy of military non-alignment in future European conflicts.  He continued saying Ireland has ‘already evolved’ its neutrality policy within the European Union ‘by participating in Pesco’ the European defence agency.

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This is deeply disturbing not to mention entirely misguided and wrong. Irish neutrality is not cosmetic piety. It is not a charming photograph on a tourist brochure to be changed at will. Neutrality is, on the contrary, an absolutely practical necessity for a small country such as ours.

Ireland, in terms of global military power, is a minnow. With a tiny population and a small economy relatively speaking, it is nonsense, dangerous nonsense to believe we would make a significant impact on any global conflict. On the other hand, by embedding ourselves on one side or the other, Ireland would make its infrastructure and by extension our people, a target. A belligerent intent on degrading our infrastructure would strike Shannon airport, the Curragh and high-tech centres in Dublin. The resulting, widespread destruction would be unimaginable.

John Redmond’s call in 1914 to aid the British empire led to almost 50,000 Irish fatalities

Alternatively, a genuinely neutral Ireland would have significant moral authority in terms of promoting peace. As such it would play a meaningful part in helping find a resolution to conflict.

It is imperative that our neutrality is not compromised still further and that any attempt to abandon it must be resisted. Micheál Martin and fellow travellers such as Charlie Flanagan  and the mainstream media must be made to hear that message loud and clear.

Ireland neutral, from the centre to the sea

What is the purpose of Seanad Éireann?

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Does anybody know what real purpose Seanad Éireann serves. Not only is its membership appointed by a flawed and undemocratic process but its programme is erratic, tendentious and frequently overlooks crucial issues. Little illustrates this better than its agenda last month. While giving prejudicial vent to its hostility towards China, it failed to mention an important issue relating to policing in the southern Irish jurisdiction.

Twice within the past four years, the current Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has been severely criticised for major errors of judgement in relation to important, sensitive issues. In 2017 Justice Seamus Treacy ruled in the Belfast High Court that the decision signed off on by Drew Harris to shut down the Historic Enquiries Team (HET) investigating state collusion with the Glennane gang was an extreme” abuse of power. Then last month the Supreme Court in London ruled that the 2014 decision by the PSNI, also signed off on by Harris, not to proceed with an investigation into maltreatment of internees known as the ‘Hooded Men’ was flawed and irrational.

One could surely be forgiven for thinking that there is, at the very least, a serious absence of priorities by our unelected senators when they could devote their attention to self-serving allegations of events 5000 miles distant yet overlook a serious and well authenticated operational deficiency by a holder of high office in the Republic. 

There is, however, the hard reality that these political manoeuvrings in Seanad Éireann are not random acts and or egregious aberrations. Rather, it is part of a right wing, pro-imperialist strategy being promoted by well-connected members of Ireland’s ruling class. These reactionary advocates have two main concerns and objectives. On one hand they are determined to maintain, at all costs, the current social and economic free-market capitalist status quo across this island. This they believe can best be guaranteed by preventing constitutional change that would challenge Ireland’s position within the imperialist matrix.

The Irish bourgeoisie’s concern with China is generated by their slavish adherence/dependence to the needs and demands of US capital. The North American superpower is in decline. Of course it has a massive military capacity but its economy is faltering and its population riven with dissent. As a consequence of building an economic system focusing on reaping ever increasing profit for an ever smaller number of people, much industrial production has been outsourced overseas with the inevitable loss of what once was well paid employment. 

Mellody Hobson, chair of the Starbucks Corporation and a director at JP Morgan Chase, highlighted the difficulties facing the US economic model in an article last month in the Financial Times*1. Writing that, ‘systemic inequalities exist’ she mentioned the fact that in the 1970s 61% of US households lived in middle-income households while that figure is now 51% and falling. 

In contrast to the faltering US economy, China is growing all the time. Significantly too and in spite of Whitehouse disapproval,  America’s financial sector recognise this fact and is eager to invest in China*2. Consequently the Peoples Republic is increasingly seen as offering an alternative to the Washington led economic block both as a successful, sustainable model for economic development and as a valuable trading partner. 

It hardly requires a great deal of imagination, therefore, to understand why Ireland’s bourgeoisie would be determined to badmouth the government in Beijing. A prospering state led by a competent communist party could and most likely would set an example for others to follow. This would be especially the case in a country with a festering housing crisis, an iniquitous two-tier health system and structural inequality plus an unresolved national question. 

Unwilling to risk contesting the arena with China in terms of economic development, Seanad Éireann’s right-wing has opted instead to try and blacken the country’s reputation through reference to events in Hong Kong and criticising Beijing’s long time ‘one China’ policy in relation to Taiwan. In doing so, the Dublin Senate was demonstrating not only astonishing arrogance but also contempt for the history of colonial exploitation.

For over a century China suffered what its people call ‘the hundred years of humiliation’ when the country lost territory, including Hong Kong, to western powers and control over its own governance. Just how humiliating, not to mention damaging, was this period can be gauged by the fact that in the 19th century British naval gunboats bombarded China’s east coast in order to force Chinese people buy opium from British merchants. 

Interestingly, when PRC spokespersons talk about Hong Kong and Taiwan, they speak in terms of national reunification. Indeed, when the Chinese embassy in Ireland issued a statement critical of the China-hostile motion recently adopted by Seanad Éireann, it drew a pointed parallel with Ireland’s own and long colonial experience*3. With a powerful reference to Ireland’s past it requested that, Irish politicians respect the Chinese people's aspiration to realise national reunification as much as they (i.e.the Chinese) respect the Irish people's aspiration to realise national reunification.

Let’s be clear about what motivates the Irish bourgeoise’s fixation with China and It is not concern for human rights. If that were the case there is a long list of violators (beginning with the US and Britain) demanding censure well before the People’s Republic might come up for mention. The reason is down to the changing balance of power in the world*4. Consequently those benefiting from current US dictated imperialist world order (including the Irish ruling class) are determined to preserve the status quo.  

There is nothing new in this tactic. Every progressive development in human history has been vilified by a reactionary ruling class … from Spartacus, to the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks to name but a few. 

Little of this will come as surprise to most readers of Socialist Voice. However it is worth reminding ourselves that many well meaning people are misled by the establishment media both print and broadcast. It is important that we maintain and where possible increase our drive to correct this false propaganda. In the course of doing so it would also be worth raising a few queries about Seanad Éireann’s odd position in relation to British state’s employees condoning of torture and collusion in the northern jurisdiction. 

Tommy McKearney … 10 January 2022

  1. Mellody Hobson, “The US must confront financial illiteracy head-on,” Financial Times (London), 18 December 2021.
  2. See, for example, Steve Johnson, “Investors shrug off Beijing intervention worries to pump money into ETFs,” Financial Times, 22 December 2021.
  3. Xinhua, “Chinese embassy in Ireland expresses opposition to China-related motion passed by Irish Senate,” 3 December 2021 (https://bit.ly/3EtE2MV).
  4. Zanny Minton Beddoes, “Rivalry between America and China will shape the post-covid world,” Economist (London), 14 November 2021.

This article first appeared in Socialist Voice, Jan 2022 


Sinn Féin, Triangulation and the Special Crim

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Sinn Féin may deploy all the dissembling semantics it likes in relation to its endorsement of the Special  Criminal Court - as currently constituted - but the simple fact is that the party has now underwritten the use of non-jury trials. Party spokespeople may dance around the head of a needle and talk of exceptional circumstances but for so long as the option remains on the statute books, it will be used. 

And make no mistake about it, its use will not be confined to punishing drug peddlers and organised crime. The Special  Criminal Court was designed for use against those the state deemed a threat to its security and that will remain its fundamental raison d’être. As Donegal Councillor Micheál Choilm Mac Giolla Easbuig says, ‘The real reason for introducing non-jury trials is not to protect jurors but, as in the Six Counties, to guarantee a conviction sought by the state, in reality the deep state.’

 The Sinn Fein decision to reverse its long-held position’s on this issue and at this point in time is revealing. Party president Mary Lou McDonald has made clear her intention to lead the next government in Dublin. To do so, party strategists are advising that it is necessary to win over a significant chunk of middle-class and hitherto hostile voters. In Blairite terms this is known as triangulation i.e. appealing beyond your base by dropping long-held principles. 

To reassure a conservative section of society that Sinn Fein will not disrupt the status quo, certain guarantees have to be given. Pearse Doherty, for example, was recently reported  as saying that big business has nothing to fear from his party if in government. The ultimate comfort for Indo readers, though, is to definitively ditch any connection with the past. Nothing can illustrate this better than adopting the very measure that was specifically introduced to smash the movement that gave birth to New Sinn Féin.

 Party handlers will spin this U-turn to the faithful as a clever manoeuvre designed merely to achieve office and influence. They will tell the yarn that the party remains committed to its core values, that nothing can be changed without governmental power and that once in the driving seat the revolution will begin.

The reality of course will be different because triangulation comes at a price. Even with a comfortable lead in opinion polls, there is no realistic possibility of Sinn Fein winning an overall majority and will therefore be dependent on the support of others to form a government. Just as a convoy travels at the speed of the slowest ship, a coalition depends for sustainability on the approval of the most recalcitrant participant. Introducing any radical measure would risk bringing down the coalition and with it a mauling from disgruntled middle-class voters believing they have been conned.

The reality is that little or nothing changes. Well, not exactly. So much energy will have been wasted for so little and of course, we will still have the Special Criminal Court, prepared to sit in judgement on the state’s opponents but now with Sinn Fein’s blessing.

Tommy McKearney …. 1 November 2021

A Sign of Things to Come?

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Last month, Kathy Sheridan writing for the Irish Times, opined about the dilemma faced by Ireland’s middle class as they agonise over whether or not to vote for Sinn Fein. The problem, it would appear, relates to the fact that while the party is promoting progressive policies, it simultaneously glorifies what the writer describes as ‘killers’. Kathy detailed the case of a well-educated young man who has publicly declared his intention to join Mary Lou’s  organisation notwithstanding the fact that Sinn Fein is unapologetically commemorating those who died on hunger strike.

It would seem that there is concern that a section of Irish society which has voted Fine Gael and for its predecessor since the foundation of the state might be seduced by Eoin Ó’Broin’s critique of government housing policies. Having spoken fondly for years of how grandpa used to canvas for Kevin O’Higgins, innocent middle class youngsters may now elect people who once supported the use of armed force.

Nor is Ms Sheridan alone in highlighting the alleged discrepancy between Sinn Féin’s current activities and policies it promotes. Heather Humphreys, Fine Gael Minister for Justice, recently accused the Shinners of hijacking history and weaponising it for their own political ends. The Minister was addressing her party’s annual Beal na mBláth commemoration for one time IRA Director of Intelligence Michael Collins. In a speech that is beyond parody, told her listeners that she shared a view of history similar to that of the ‘Big Fellow’.

Telling history to suit one’s political objectives is nothing new nor is the practice confined to any one party or group. Sinn Fein is not the first to interpret the past to its own advantage. However that is not the real reason why the party is subject to endless accusations and an ongoing tirade about its ethics, its past and its internal organisational structures. It’s recent electoral successes have highlighted something much more profound than spin-doctoring with the facts of history.

Irish society, North and South, is in a process of transformation. Over the course of recent decades, the Republic has introduced legislation providing access to contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage and abortion.Taken in isolation from other events the socially liberal reforms detailed above would not necessarily challenge the status quo. However, other significant happenings have created conditions and circumstances that are making old fixtures difficult to sustain.

The economic crash of 2010 has had a lasting impact. The extent of system shock took the establishment some time to recognise. In the early days it seemed that the population of the 26-Counties was prepared to passively accept the imposition of austerity and the concomitant neo-liberalism. For a period it looked as if the working class would stay silent and meekly pay the gambling debts of Irish and European bankers.

Slowly but surely that position changed. First came the grassroots movement against household charges. Then came the massive, popular and largely successful movement campaigning against the imposition of water charges. Significantly this campaign was reinforced by support from organised labour. Then, in the arena of parliamentary politics, this period has also witnessed an end of the long standing two-and-a-half party system as new faces arrived on the block.

It was however the general election of February 2020 that underlined the extent to which old certainties have changed. Sinn Fein achieved a remarkable result, obtaining the largest vote for any single party and in the  process forcing the conservative parties of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael into a marriage of convenience. Most worrying for the establishment was the profile of the Sinn Fein vote. Young and geographically well spread, seemingly little concerned with the past and motivated by socio-economic and climate issues.

And then came Covid-19 to expose still further the bumbling incompetence of a hapless coalition. Moreover, where the tripartite government did manage a success,  it has the effect of raising other questions.  There is for example, the highly efficient, well run and free at point of entry testing and vaccination rollout. Something that has only went to demonstrate the contrast with the iniquitous two-tier health service advertised so often on the state broadcaster.

Adding to underlying instability is the situation in the North. Changing demographics, perfidious British Tories creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea and most recently having its devolved government preside over the worst Covid rate  in Western Europe makes for a deeply unsettled 6-County political entity. It remains a reality that major events in the North can quickly impact on the South and possibly even more dramatically now that Sinn Fein is such a significant presence both sides of the border.

In the wider sense, this all raises the question as to whether Sinn Fein poses a threat to the existing economic and power system or whether it merely challenges the current parliamentary hegemony of the two main coalition parties. Hence the relentless pressure from different quarters to try and ensure that the party mellows into the type of conformity long practised by the Labour Party. 

Time alone will tell how Sinn Féin develops. What is beyond question though is the existence of a new, young and as yet unquantifiable element within Irish society.  In fact this is a phenomenon not necessarily confined to Ireland. A recent article in the Financial Times, ‘Losing the generation game: could economic setbacks radicalise graduates?’  viewed this as an almost global reality.

While only a newspaper article, the FT piece nevertheless raised an issue that is most likely of concern to the establishment here and of interest to many of us who are not part of the ruling class. The Pink Paper noted that many among the younger generation are losing confidence in the bourgeois parliamentary process. Instead, they are turning to grassroots activism devoted to a range of causes such as the above mentioned socio-economic and ecology issues. 

Although still on a relatively small scale, we saw some evidence of this last month in Dublin. A group of activists from County Tyrone protesting outside Leinster House against gold-mining in the Sperrins was joined by activists from different parts of Ireland. Noteworthy was the number of young people involved and speaking powerfully. Equally noticeable  was the absence of representatives from any of the main political parties in either jurisdiction. It was grassroots activism of the empowering kind.

A sign of things to come?  Well, why not?

Tommy McKearney … 4 September 2021

This article first appeared in Socialist Voice September 2021

The rationale behind the Mother and Baby homes scandal

When Micheál Martin  and Leo Varadkar lay blame for crimes committed in Mother and Baby homes on all of Irish society, they are attempting to mask the reality of a toxic relationship between church and state that had its origins in the founding of the 26-County political entity in 1922. 

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The Irish civil war resulted in the establishment of a deeply conservative and profoundly reactionary government in the newly created Free State. Its claim to democratic legitimacy was based on a narrow election victory decided not so much by popular approval but as Mellows said, by the people’s fear of ‘immediate and terrible war’. Cumann na nGaedheal was unsure of its hold on power. It feared that a progressive republican message would lead to rejection of the dominion status it had agreed to through the Treaty and bloodily implemented during the civil war. 

At the same time, the equally reactionary Roman Catholic Church was also fearful that its global influence was being threatened by left-wing and socialist revolutionaries.  By the same token the Irish Catholic hierarchy was deeply hostile to the republican side in the civil war, routinely condemning its policies and activities. Nor was its paranoia eased in the following decade as many prominent republicans supported a socialist agenda.  

Little surprise therefore that an unofficial, but nevertheless real, partnership was formed between Ireland’s right wing political establishment and an ultra conservative Church.  In return for whole hearted support for the existent status quo, the Free State government placed enormous power in the hands of the Catholic hierarchy. Education, orphanages, reformatory schools and hospitals were managed by the Church. It was a relationship disturbingly similar to that which emerged twenty years later in Franco’s Spain and with a similar objective, to resist progressive change.

The partnership was so advantageous for a conservative ruling class that De Valera maintained the concordat when his Fianna Fail party replaced Cumann na nGaedheal as parliamentary caretaker of the Treaty. Not only that, but he embedded the arrangement by inserting a special placing for the Catholic Church in his 1937 constitution. 

Given such power, the Catholic Church doubled down on its more extreme practices all the while operating with collusion from a state happy to be sustained by clerical approval. 

That the cruel treatment of women and children in those vile institutions has finally been acknowledged by the perpetrators is a measure of progress. What has not been acknowledged and will not be acknowledged by them is the underlying reason for why this appalling situation happened in the first place. A damaging, self-serving alliance was created for the worst of all reasons: the preservation of two disreputable power structures, one clerical the other political/economic.

Tommy McKearney … 13 January 2021


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Celebrating the people’s struggle for a progressive republic

PDF  Democratic Programme for the 21st century   PDF 

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Covid-19 has not been all bad news for those who govern Ireland’s 26-county state. Apart from giving Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin continuing opportunities to pose solemnly in front of the television cameras, it has allowed the Irish establishment to quietly ignore seminal events of a century ago.

While the pandemic has obviously restricted public gatherings, official Ireland has done little to highlight or reflect upon the past. It’s almost as if the War of Independence was a disturbing and uncomfortable family secret, best when seldom mentioned and only talked about in public if absolutely unavoidable.

The proffered rationale for this neglect is invariably misleading and trite. “Say little in case it might inflame passions in the North,” they mutter. No need to revisit that period, since we are now so friendly with Britain, we are assured. Best not to dig too deep, because your neighbour’s grandfather may have been a member of the RIC or even a Black and Tan. And look at the difficulties commemorating that bunch of thugs caused Charlie Flanagan, not to mention the leadership of Fianna Fáil.

Of course if discussion of the period cannot be avoided, then endeavour to undermine the idealism, introduce the unpleasant, and imply that there is still worse to be uncovered. For example, Kevin Barry was willing to “kill and to die,” ran the tendentious headline in a recent Irish Independent article. Other sources spin the tale that civilians died in crossfire, women were sometimes abused, and caring fathers were among police casualties.

All undeniably true; but the story is not being told in context.

This misleading slant is often followed by raising questions such as Tom Barry’s account of the false surrender at Kilmichael, or insinuations that the IRA was guilty of sectarianism in certain areas. These are well-practised tactics designed to muddy the waters in order to provide scope for those who wish to equivocate, criticise, or deny.

It has to be said too that certain republicans have tended to oversimplify the conflict rather than critique it. They have promoted a view defining the aftermath as one merely of betrayal of an ideal. In reality this is a version of the “great man or bad man” theory of history.

However superficially attractive the view may be, it fails to provide a concrete analysis of the past and therefore cannot offer a telling insight into the present.

Ireland’s War of Independence is a story worth telling at any time and certainly not something to be shied away from. Nevertheless it was more than a series of military engagements, no matter how spectacular some of them may have been. It was a time of revolution, with mass popular participation at the grass roots—a time when the potential existed for fundamental social and economic change. That this latter possibility did not come about is not only revealing but has a crucial bearing on the present day.

By 1920 there existed in many parts of Ireland a situation of virtual dual power. An insurrectionary movement had rejected, and in places supplanted, the authority of a long-established and powerful regime. In its stead the insurgents had established their own governing institution, with its judicial system, police, and army. Not only did this new order have majority support in the country but it enjoyed significant backing from within organised labour, as demonstrated by a number of widespread, paralysing politically inspired strikes. Moreover, labour was flexing its muscle, seizing control of a number of work-places and unashamedly declaring them to be workers’ soviets.

This aspect of the War of Independence—that is, the potential to build a different, secular, socially and economically progressive Ireland—is often overlooked. Yet it remains central to a proper understanding of those events in our history. Moreover, it is one of the main reasons why today, apart from recalling a few outstanding episodes, the Irish establishment is reluctant to revisit that period. To do so would involve examining the struggle for Irish independence within a wider and more meaningful context than self-government alone.

What were the defining characteristics of the Sinn Féin movement of the time? What were its objectives, and why did it fracture? Most important of all, why were working people left out of the post-war settlement?

Writing later, the socialist republican Peadar O’Donnell made the incisive observation that “the middle class, which lurked in the shadow of the republican movement from its rise to popularity, was no part of the freedom forces; it had no aim that could not be realised in Home Rule within the British Empire.”

Therein lies a profound and accurate explanation for the Civil War, the genesis of which lay in conflicting class interests within the insurgent forces. Unfortunately, such clarity or insight was missing from among a majority of the anti-Treaty forces, a blind spot that focused attention then and subsequently on superficial aspects rather than the substance of the new 26-county arrangement. This misconception facilitated the emergence and endurance of a bourgeois state, a state immersed in crony capitalism and in effect beholden for its survival to the tenets of contemporary imperialism, whether British, American, or European.

Hardly surprising, therefore, that the Irish establishment is so uneasy about taking part in a deep reflection on the War of Independence and its immediate aftermath. Uncomfortable questions would be asked about the southern Irish state’s failure to address so many issues. How is it that almost a century later, and in the grip of a dangerous pandemic, we have a two-tier health service, failing abysmally? Why indeed have we two uncoordinated health services on this small island? Why have we a homelessness and housing crisis? Why do we still have a financial sector unanswerable to the people? Why is the Taoiseach unwilling to declare his support for an end to partition?

These and other questions will be addressed during a three-day digital festival organised by the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum to celebrate and analyse Ireland’s War of Independence. Taking place on the 27th, 28th and 29th of November, it is designed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Kilmichael ambush. The festival will explore, in conversation with a range of expert speakers, many aspects of the struggle. In particular it will asses the effect of those events on the present day, with a particular emphasis on the theme that now, and after such heroic struggle, “Labour must wait no longer.”

****  Details of the festival schedule are available on the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum website 

Tommy McKearney … 1st November 2020

This article eirst appeared in Socialist Voice November 2020

Containing the surge

Nothing worries an established ruling class so much as a series of unpredictable events over which they have no control. This is especially so when these events pose questions about the stability of the status quo. There can be little doubt that developments over the last six months have given rise to just such concerns within governing circles in Dublin.

Look at what has happened over that short period. 

Last December’s  British general election showed the fragility of partition, with unionism losing out in three of the four Belfast Westminster constituencies. Reconvening the Stormont Assembly has offered only temporary relief with the pandemic showing London rule to be more incompetent not to mention more undemocratic than anything emanating from Leinster House.

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Electoral upset in the North was followed a few weeks later by shock in the South. Sinn Fein received the highest number of votes for any single party thus creating an unprecedented situation. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in partnership were unable to form a majority government. The real question posed by that result is whether Sinn Fein’s manifesto and canvas was so inspiring that it reversed the dismal results of its two previous election performances or did it reflect something different. Did it indicate the slow burning anger of a very sizeable percentage of the population? A disadvantaged section of working people outraged with the arrogant mistreatment meted out by a Fine Gael government kept in power by a clueless Fianna Fail? 

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic appeared at first to have given a reprieve to Leo Varadkar and his party. Clever PR created the impression of a competent and caring government. However, the mask has been slipping of late. He is preparing to reverse much of the €350 weekly pandemic payment while talking caustically about those drawing down more from that measure than they do at work. At the same time his ministers and mainstream media supporters speak darkly about budget deficits and no free money. 

All the while, a global recession is looming on the horizon. Capitalism is facing a much greater crisis than that triggered by the financial crash of 2008 and in the opinion of many, its greatest challenge since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The International Labour Organisation is predicting 12 million full-time jobs will be lost across the EU in 2020. The OECD has estimated the decline in output could be in the level of between one-fifth to one-quarter in many economies, with consumers’ expenditure potentially dropping by around one-third.

Compounding this, emergency measures taken to deal with the pandemic are raising concerns among free marketeers the world over. The Financial Times editorial of 9 May reflected the fears of the ruling classes when it wrote that short of a communist revolution it would be hard to imagine governments intervening in private markets more deeply than happened during the first months of lockdown. 

Just one example illustrates the difficulties this could cause for a neoliberal Irish state. Currently, 80% of the nursing homes in the Republic of Ireland are privately owned profit-making business. These institutions are now coming under intense scrutiny. Over 50% of Covid-19 related deaths in the 26-Counties are associated with care homes, one of the highest rates the world. The obvious answer, to bring all healthcare under centralised state control, threatens this nice little earner for the private sector. Moreover, since the situation vis-à-vis care homes in the North is little different, this could well raise for a partitionist Dublin establishment the unwelcome spectre of demands for an effective all-Ireland health service free to all at the point of entry.

Recognising what is at stake, several high-powered commentators, here and abroad, are advocating a Keynesian approach to deal with the anticipated recession. In reality, they recognise the threat a second more intensive round of austerity would pose for capitalism. However, this would be a difficult option for a Dublin government that doesn’t control its own currency and adheres slavishly to EU regulations preventing state intervention.

Moreover, even if the EU were to temporarily ease back on neo-liberalism, the southern Irish bourgeoisie would be reluctant to adopt Keynesianism. Crude demand stimulation would inevitably lead to another uncontrollable speculative bubble. On the other hand a more controlled investment programme might encourage demands for further, widespread state intervention. Something that could put us on the slippery slope towards socialism.   

Faced with this dilemma, the more attractive option for the Southern Irish ruling class will be to batten down the hatches, protect big business, maintain a de facto austerity regime  and hope to ride out the storm. With a right-wing coalition in office for the next five years, vague promises can be made but never kept. Meanwhile, a compliant mainstream media will point to southern Europe and tell us  how much better off we are with our prudent, frugal government.  

A major concern for the establishment will be to contain the disaffected, that disturbingly large number of people who voted for Sinn Fein and/or left-wing candidates. While coercion is an option, it is not the first choice. The more sophisticated strategy of shaping the opposition is favoured. It worked in Britain and no doubt it will be tried here.

Watch for the pundits encourage Sinn Fein to show maturity and serve patiently as an effective official opposition and tell them by thus acting ‘responsibly’, Mary Lou will undoubtedly lead the next government. Wait for the modest concessions offered to ‘reasonable’ trade union leaders who recognise that ‘we’re all in this together’ and show restraint for the good of the nation.

Listen then for the howls of outrage directed against those in organised labour who call for direct action to break the emasculating Industrial Relations Act or resist redundancies or reject poverty wages. Hear too the demonisation of those activists calling for mass street protest against iniquitous inequalities. 

Take time finally and consider whether capitalism deserves a five-year respite and an extension to its tenure thereafter. Or should we take a lesson from their own book and not waste this crisis?

Some men, faint-hearted, ever seek

Our programme to retouch,

And will insist, whene’er they speak

That we demand too much.

’Tis passing strange, yet I declare

Such statements give me mirth,

For our demands most moderate are,

We only want the earth … James Connolly

Tommy McKearney 


Coronavirus: A lesson for us all

Statement … Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum


The Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum, like many groups and individuals, has watched Covid-19 take a heavy toll on the lives of working people around the country. The emergence and global spread of this virus has brought home to many people the volatile nature of the world we live in, and exposed the fragile nature of health services in Ireland. It has also opened up conversations about how we should deal with it and how to learn for future viruses and also the type of future Ireland we should have.

Decades of underfunding, privatisation and commercialisation  have weakened and undermined the public health services that people need and have access to. The creation of a two-tier health system in the two parts of Ireland has contributed to further inequality within society.

Covid-19 has also exposed outmoded thinking about how we should deal with major social and political questions, including the provision of health services to our people, from Derry to Kerry. As many leading medical experts have pointed out, it makes no sense, and is dangerous to public health, to have two separate strategies for fighting Covid-19 and two poorly funded health services.

We believe that an all-Ireland, universally accessible, free public health system would be in the best interests of the citizens. It would go a long way to ending inequality in health care. We must maximise the use of medical expertise throughout the whole country. We need to remove the profit motive out of health services, from hospitals to care homes for the elderly.

Outmoded thinking in relation to creating a single health service for all our people will endanger the present and future generations. We need to plan for the future, not to be locked in the past.

Covid-19 is not the first virus, nor will it be the last, that will have an impact on our people. The continuing destruction of the global environment is opening up new pathways for such diseases to become more regular challenges, both globally and nationally, to people’s health and the provision of health care.

Working people paid for the last crisis in lost jobs, savage cuts in wages and services, homelessness, and precarious work. During the present health crisis working people have again borne an unequal burden, with many lives lost. Working people should not pay for this new and emerging economic crisis. We have had enough.

Contact:   Tommy Mc Kearney

Email: tommymckearney@me.com

PODSRF Press release ...14th May 2020

This© Tommy McKearney 2012                                                                                      email:    tommymkearney@me.com