Century of Endeavour
Politics in the 1970s
(c) Roy Johnston 2003(comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
I include here, interspersed chronologically, some material from JJ's 'last political fling', during which he identified with the Common Market Defence Campaign, led by Anthony Coughlan and Raymond Crotty. Despite the title of his book 'Why Ireland Needs the Common Market', published a decade earlier, this does not represent a U-turn; his position was totally consistent with his lifetime concern with the question of a fair price for the primary producers. He was prepared to think globally, and distance himself from the rush on the part of the Irish to join the 'rich men's club' of major subsidised-agriculture states. The title of his earlier book was, in fact, ironically intended.
JJ and the European Common MarketThere are typescripts of three letters to the Irish Times, of which two are dated and may have been published. There are several other undated typescripts, perhaps intended as newspaper articles; he submitted the last one to the journal 'Hibernia' and there is on record a polite letter from the editor John Mulcahy rejecting it.
Irish Times, December 18 1970: 'The Invisible Coalition':
Sir / One is sometimes tempted to join one of our left-wing revolutionary organisations in the hope of teaching them a little sense. Many of the ends they have in view are highly desirable but the means used to further them are deplorable. An outstanding example is the destruction of the Nelson Pillar. A well publicised movement to have Nelson removed and Wolfe Tone substituted would have commanded widespread sympathy and the significance of the change would have been obvious to everyone. Many similar more recent episodes could be referred to.
Watching the political game from the outside one cannot help being amazed that so many of the personalities concerned cannot see the the obvious. The political Labour party which has not the remotest hope of ever becoming a majority party in the life time of most of us, is hopelessly divided on the question for or against coalition. The real coalition is staring us all in the face but we do not see it. That is the de facto coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to land us all in the EEC with our eyes shut.
The greatest betrayal of our national interests and freedom since the Act of Union in being openly planned by the major parties, and the general public silently acquiesces. The Labour party, instead of wasting its energies in a dispute about a coalition with Fine Gael, should consciously adopt the cause of an all Ireland radical party that is determined to keep all Ireland out of the Eurocrat Empire by every legitimate means.
Many people up north have grave misgivings about the EEC but they lack organisation and leadership. The Labour party can make no more valuable contribution to the cause of natural freedom and self determination on an all Ireland non-sectarian basis than this. If they fail to adopt this obvious cause in my view, they should have not only their eyes, but their heads examined.
Irish Times January 8 1971:
Dr. Fitzgerald's statistical exercises in your edition of today arouses my envy and admiration. The one fact that sticks out a mile is the relatively slow growth of what ought to be our major economic activity - agriculture. If we approach the matter from an ecumenical rather than a national point of view this is not surprising.
Ever since 1947 and even earlier the Republic has been the helpless victim of British Agricultural policy. The British have discovered a new technique which enable them in effect to tax and oppress our agricultural economy and indeed that of Commonwealth countries who are substantial exporters of agricultural produce to the UK.
More recently the six major industrial countries of the West European continent have made the same discovery and are exploiting and oppressing their weaker victims by essentially the same methods. The popular remedy for all this is that we should join the EEC oppressors! Shades of Wolfe Tone and all the other martyrs in the cause of national freedom!
Like the devil I can occasionally quote statistical scripture for my purpose.
The artificially induced increase of food and raw material production in the developed countries has caused between 1955 and 1966 an increase from 17.5 to 31.2 billion dollars in the value of their food and (non-fuel) raw material exports. In the case of the developing countries who had greater need for expansion of exports, the increase in billions of dollars was only from 13.1 to 18.8.
By the same token the price index (based on 1963) of manufactured exports rose from 91 in 1955 to 106 in 1966. In the case of food and (non-fuel) raw materials from 'developing? countries, the index fell from 112 to 102. See Colin Clark 'Starvation or Plenty' PP136,137.
Into a Gadarene EEC (intended for the national dailies, undated, perhaps published):
I have been unable to scan this, but the following quote gives its flavour: '..the farmer will produce what pays him best and use his political influences to get higher prices no matter what becomes of surplus production... the 'reductio ad absurdum' of this situation is said to have occurred in India during British rule. A price was offered for every cobra destroyed and the number offered for reward increased in a most satisfactory manner until someone discovered that enterprising farmers were going in for cobra farming..'.
Ireland Joining the EEC Oppressors!!??
For decades I have been instinctively critical of the agricultural policies of our British and later our Continental European neighbours. Even during the course of our so-called Economic War the British introduced the principle of supplementing the free market price of home produced agricultural products by direct grants from the Exchequer. When the Economic War came to an end in 1938 the principle of the differential Treasury-provided supplement to the prices of products similar to ours in the British market remained. It was explained that it was none of our business and we accepted the explanation. The underlying principle acquired a permanent form when it was embodied in the British Agriculture Act of 1947 enacted by a Labour Government. It would have been more appropriate to a Tory Government's outlook and it has been developed and maintained by subsequent Tory Governments.
The artificially high price maintained for British produced agricultural products had the effect of doubling the output of domestic agriculture and this not only lessened their absorption capacity for our agricultural exports but reduced the so-called free commercial price which our exports would command in the British market. Egg production in the UK, mainly in large scale units, doubled in the course of the last two decades, and our export of eggs, an essential element in family farm income, diminished to a low level. A recent outbreak of fowl pest in England is said to have wiped out one third of the artificially increased poultry population, so probably the exportable output of our more primitively managed poultry population will be in greater demand in the near future.
The international effect of the artificial price level maintained by the UK under the 1947 Act has been to lessen the price and diminish the volume of Irish and Commonwealth country exports to the British market. Reciprocally the capacity of Ireland and Commonwealth countries to buy non-agricultural goods from the U.K. has been diminished.
The agricultural policies by EEC countries have been essentially similar except that Treasury-supplied price supplements have been supplemented by the proceeds of a common tariff on agricultural imports from non EEC countries.
A recently published book by Colin Clarke, lately Director of the Agricultural Research Institute of Oxford, has set forth the matter in considerable detail and with a wealth of scientific analysis. It is called 'Starvation or Plenty'.
The substance of his argument is that the wealthy 'developed' countries are actually doing a disservice to the 'developing' countries by competing with them in common export markets for the sale of similar agricultural surpluses. On p143 he states: "If the developed countries are genuinely concerned about the future economic growth of the poorer countries, they should remove all subsidies and price supports from their own agriculture, and then let it find a level at which it can compete at world prices".
Thus both British and EEC agricultural policy function as an indirect form of oppression and exploitation of the so-called 'developing' countries as well as of the white countries of the British Commonwealth and of one important ex-Commonwealth country - the Republic of Ireland.
The question for us is more a moral than a political or economic question. Can a country with our national record of opposition to political and economic oppression deliberately become an integral part of the proposed Eurocratic Empire even if the material gains are as great as they are represented to be. If the material gains turn out to be unreal too, we shall share with Esau the distinction of selling our national birthright for a 'mess of potage'.
An Afterthought:- As one of the members of a Government Committee of Inquiry on Post-Emergency Agricultural Policy concerned with drafting the final Majority Report in 1945, I had this to say in paragraph 65:
"owing to causes which it is unnecessary to discuss in detail, the export price of our principal agricultural products is definitely much less than the price plus subsidy obtained by the producers of similar products in the United Kingdom. The export price obtainable for our agricultural products is a principal element in the determination of agricultural incomes here including the incomes of agricultural labourers. Agricultural wages here have risen in recent years but are less than the current level of wages in the United Kingdom by at least 20/- per week. Labour and capital move freely from our country to Great Britain. Consequently lower prices for our agricultural exports than are in fact commanded by producers of exactly similar products in the United Kingdom tend to promote the export of agricultural labourers to Great Britain instead of agricultural products. This in fact has taken place to an extent that now embarrass our agricultural effort in some areas".
The export since 1945 is counted in hundreds of thousands.
I was a true prophet in 1945. For the sake of my three great grandchildren I hope I am a false prophet in 1971.
RJ in post-split Sinn FeinThe January 3 1971 issue of Nuacht Naisiunta (NN) led off with an exhortation to EEC work, with the perception that the Referendum was due the following April. It continued with a reference to the state-church issue in the schools context, supporting community and vocational schools. There were letters from and detainees internees in Crumlin Road. Then on January 26 (issue #60) here was a feature on the Montpelier school; the movement had actually attempted to supply a series of volunteer teachers to keep it going, one of them being Eoin O Murchu, who had given up a job in the management of a Gaeltacht factory in Tourmakeady.
This abuse of educated volunteers in the movement having leadership potential was to my mind a highly questionable practice, suggesting a perception that people were expendable. The Montpelier episode, with all its ramifications, needs analysis by local and political historians. RJ June 2001.
It seems Tim Pat Coogan was libelling the present writer at this time, and I wrote on January 16 1971 seeking scripts, with a view to legal action. This was subsequent to the Ann Harris profile in the Irish Press, with which I said I had no quarrel. Nothing seems to have come of this.
WTS January 19 committee: statement of aims; Connradh and Gaeltacht, co-ops, Belfast negative.
There is draft material on the 'statement of aims' in the archive; no drastic changes in main objectives; more open membership; no party political affiliation; current areas of interest declared to be civil rights and constitutional reform, N and S; Irish language and culture; the co-operative movement; science and technology; educational reform.
This theme extends in the January 18 1971 entry; the Belfast NICRA wanted CDG at their conference as the CA's representative, as '..the only organisation doing anything in Britain..'. It seemed however that the 'London NICRA' was in a position to claim that it was acting at the express request of the Belfast NICRA. There was evidence of some confusion. On January 22 CDG arrived in Belfast and as usual went to see Betty Sinclair, who had been at a meeting of West European CPs, and had '..expected to see me there..'. She gave her impressions: '..the old camaraderie of pre-war years has gone... the Dutch will not sign anything... the Italians did not seem to care about anybody but themselves..'. She went on to tell him '..that whereas the Republicans for all their faults would be glad to have Joe Deighan and John McClelland on the Civil Rights executive, the Party (which means the Stewarts) has vetoed it. I was unable to get any closer to the problem..'.
It seems we are increasingly up against the problem of limited political understanding within the CPNI of the nature of the civil rights question, and the role of the republicans, in the NI political context.
The next day January 23 1971 CDG decided to go to Derry and see Hume, which he did, successfully; Hume made him welcome, and showed him round the place. It turned out that Hume's 'Bill' was not a Bill at all, but a copy of his submission to the Crowther Commission. He tried to see Kevin Agnew on the way back, was entertained to tea by his wife, who said Kevin was in Enniskillen with McDowell. Kevin was to chair the meeting the next day. This he describes in some detail on January 24; he formed the opinion that it was the result of an 'orange-communist' cabal, analogous to the NILP. Speakers were Kader Asmal, CDG, then Hume. CDG spoke with a 'strong republican bias' given the situation. He suggested that 'they were at their old trick, to demand something and then object to it when they got it, to pose as great reformers before the republicans, but by doing nothing decisive, to hold the Orangemen and the NILP. Hume had been brought in in an effort to confuse the issue..'.
CDG here was attempting to develop a critique of the CPNI, whose role in the development of the NICRA had been ambiguous. In fact the conference seems to have been a genuine though somewhat confused attempt to develop public support for the Bill of Rights approach, which they were trying to extend to economic questions. There was however an undercurrent of anti-communism against which they had to try to swim.
There was a sequel to the foregoing, which CDG picked up from AC in London on January 31 1971: it seems that Micheal O'Riordan and Cathal Goulding were busy discussing an 'anti-imperialist conference' which might be called jointly by the Belfast and Dublin Trades Councils. They had brought in 'Peoples Democracy', it was understood at the Republicans' request, and had decided not to mention Civil Rights but to discuss only the EEC and economic matters. AC thought that the omission of civil rights was partly a sop to PD and partly in accordance with the 'orange communists' that were in the North; it was all confusion; they had no general perspective except with regard to their own small groupings.
I don't recollect anything ever coming of this; it is a reflection of the general level of disorientation and confusion of both the Marxist left and the republican left, in response to the perceived current threats of the provisional campaign and the looming concept of the EEC as the new Act of Union.
WTS Feb 16 committee: Cian O h-Eigeartaigh letter (on record in archive; relates to Mac Umfraigh); education group - denominational control; Belfast; Resources Study Group.
Tomas Mac Giolla in the February 16 1971 NN issued a statement in reply to the Provisionals which indicated the extent to which the situation had deteriorated, with shootings in Belfast, and anti-red witch-hunting. Then on March 9 there was an instruction to Cumainn to avoid contact with the 'breakaway group'. Conor Cruise O'Brien challenged Tomas Mac Giolla to a debate on the North. This took place subsequently, and I attended it.
In NN during the first quarter of 1971 we have the split situation becoming increasingly embittered, and continuing concern with the Common Market issue, and the perceived threat of a British-dominated all-Ireland 'federal arrangement'. The principal influence would appear still to have been Coughlan, whose explicit agenda at the time was along these lines. It soon became evident that from this time on the influence of myself and Coughlan were in decline, though the momentum of political convergence of the 'broad left' continued for a time; in the end it was undermined by the increasingly militarised situation.
WTS March 2 general: Joy Rudd on Community Schools etc. The paper in full is on record in the archive. There is also a copy of a memorandum and resolution attacking the undermining of the concept of the 'community school' by handing over ownership and control to religious denominations, and for dealing only with the Catholic Hierarchy. This was on the agenda on April 6.
Northern Ideology: submitted 25/03/71:
I am old enough to remember a discussion I had with a neighbouring boy friend during the currency of the Boer War. I gathered from his remarks that he thought the Boers were all 'Papishes' and that this was a principal reason for England making war on them. When I explained to him that the Boers were better Presbyterians than he was himself, he forthwith became a pro-Boer! When will all our northern friends discover that this is the 20th not the 17th century?
Sir Edward Carson certainly had not a 17th century mentality but he knew how to play in that mentality in furtherance of his political career. He probably realised fully that in the European situation of 1913-14, he was, so to speak, striking matches in a powder magazine. I said as much in a pamphlet called 'Civil War in Ulster' which was sold out in 1913 and early 1914. The first World War created the Russian Revolution and the Peace of Versailles made the second World War inevitable. The late Lord Carson probably felt this instinctively and it may have some significance that he spent the last few years of his life in complete retirement in Southern England. It is also on record that the late Kevin O'Higgins had a private interview with him not long before the former's own assassination in 1927. A tape recording of that interview would be very interesting, but unfortunately each respected the other's confidence in full measure.
The lesson of history is that men never learn from history.
Yours, etc / J Johnston.
PS A favourite saying early in 1914 was 'Better the Kaiser than John Redmond'.
With the best will on both sides, there are serious obstacles to the union of the 32 counties as a free and independent state. The Constitution of 1937 gives a special place to the Roman Catholic Church thereby implying that we are more a papal state than the ordinary type of secular state. We cannot seriously expect the Six Counties to unite with that kind of state, and it would be a graceful act on our part to make this a secular state without seeking any quid pro quo.
The laws of this State forbid the legitimate import of contraceptive devices, thus compelling many of its citizens to import them illegitimately and for this traffic the fact that the Six Counties have no such law is a great convenience to a minority of our citizens. In this matter the State goes out its way to impose a dogma of the Roman Church on a minority of its citizens. In this respect the State functions more as a papal state than as the ordinary type of secular state.
The position of the Six Counties is also quite anomalous. Most of its citizens cherish their British citizenship. They are entitled to do so but that does not give them the right for fifty years to have a monopoly of local authority and treat their permanent dissident minority as if they had no rights to a share in local government at all. They claim the full privileges of British citizenship. But they exercise in addition important powers of local self government. Let them go on claiming and exercising the rights of British citizens but abandon their claim to local self-government as well. In that case the coercive powers of government would revert fully to the British Home Secretary in Northern Ireland. The Six County Parliament could remain as an advisory council but all the coercive powers of government would belong to the Home Secretary just as if they were the county council of Yorkshire or any part of the British mainland.
If these ideas were acted on, we could then be able to consider whether a separate government for all Ireland was desirable or feasible.
(date? IT?) Ireland a Secular State?:
To the normal non-Catholic resident in Ireland there is not much difference between life here and life say in England or France. And yet there are just a few things which remind one occasionally that our State is in some respects more papal than secular. Before there can be any serious talk about union with the North, this must become frankly a secular state and we must do it of out own free will and not as part of a bargain whether there is any immediate response or not from the other side.
May I outline briefly those aspects of our constitution to which I refer? The 1937 Constitution gives a "special place" to the Roman Catholic Church. In a purely secular state this phrase, whatever its precise meaning. would not occur. If it was abolished unconditionally it would help to produce a suitable atmosphere for negotiations.
But there are other things in the laws in force here which are of grave practical importance. Non-Catholics believe in the lawfulness of divorce; divorce is legally impossible here. In a truly secular (not papal) state its possibility would be provided for. Non-Catholics believe in the necessity and practice of contraception but in this "papal" state they cannot legally acquire the necessary materials.
If the law was altered in these necessary ways, then we would become a normal secular State and we would no longer be inviting the minority to join a de-facto papal state.
JJ and TransportThe question of public transport became important to JJ after he crashed his car, somewhere near the Taney Road in Dundrum; he was living in Ballaly Drive in Dundrum at the time. He could no longer get insured. Shortly after this he moved in with his nephew Alex, in Mount Merrion, and then down to Nenagh with my sister. During this transition he and my mother briefly occupied the garden flat of my house in Rathmines, but this was not suitable.
He attempted to pull together some notes for a publication on the question, and my mother helped him write them up, but it never came to anything. He did at the time manage to get a TV interview on the question. The essence of his approach was the need for an integrated approach between road, rail and waterways for freight, and between road and rail for passengers. But he lacked knowledge of the focal problems as they presented themselves in the late 60s and early 70s, though as ever he had a philosophical approach which would be recognised today as 'green', ie minimal expenditure of energy.
Greaves Diaries: in London on March 3 1971 CDG attended a meeting of the CPGB in King St at which policy on Ireland was discussed. He urged them not to get involved in anything like a demand for "withdraw all troops and leave it to the IRA" '..as long as they made it quite clear that they were carrying out a more practical policy to end the border and withdraw altogether... I told them that thanks even to the small reforms conceded social changes were beginning in Derry. This is what Hume has shown me..'.
WTS April 4 1971: there is in the archive a paper partly in the writing of RJ relating to the siting and ownership of the projected smelter. This I think surfaced in the context of RJ's Irish Times 'Science and Technology' column, but the critique originated in the WTS, and Derry Kelleher was involved.
WTS April 6 general: Resolution on Community Schools (Joy Rudd); Kevin McCorry, Organiser for the NICRA, on the current situation in the North. There is an Irish Times cutting dated 22/5?/71 containing the WTS condemnation of the Department's defining 'community schools' in religious lines.
Questions addressed in NN during the second quarter of 1971 included the Forcible Entry Bill, political prisoners in Britain, the Guinness and Whitegate Refinery disputes, unemployment, the National College of Art crisis, Bodenstown, pub bombs and sectarianism, local government, fishing rights, tenants rights, feminism, and the EEC. I pick up only on the following:
NN issue #69 on April 13 1971 led off with an Easter statement from the IRA, calling for avoidance of military confrontations, while helping people where necessary to defend their homes, while seeking confrontation on social, economic and political issues.
NN April 19 1971: there was a call to open up meaningful discussion with 'other left groups', referencing current published material in the Irish Socialist and the Irish Democrat. '...To dismiss the old-established Marxist left as "a bunch of academics" or as "pure trade unionists" is to underestimate seriously the degree of theoretical and practical development... with regard to the national question..'. The Socialist contains an article by Betty Sinclair which points out that the use of force by 'extremists among anti-Unionists... serves to unite Unionism..'. The Democrat attacked the Tribune for their support of 'Direct Rule', and called for a Bill of Rights giving republicans in the 6 counties the right of organisation and propaganda; also to disarm the Orangemen and close down the 'gun clubs'. A draft Bill of Rights, as an Amendment to the Government of Ireland Act, had been tabled. This was identified as the last chance perhaps for decades to make use of constitutional reform procedures with some chance of being listened to.
There is an echo here of JJ; protected sugar from beet in France is a relic of the Napoleonic wars, defended by vested interests ('les bettraviers'); it is economic nonsense where tropical producers of cane sugar can produce under favourable conditions at low cost and need to export to develop their economies. CDG had in mind the overall iniquity of European protected agriculture, seen in global terms. The 'sugar planters' were of course the British sugar giants who depended on tropical sugar. These would have been strongly anti-EEC.
In Belfast on April 26th CDG met with Hughie Moore and others, urging them to produce an anti-sectarian pamphlet. Joe Deighan had become more active, and Bobby Heatley had been making mincemeat of the PD. One gets an impression of a withdrawal from the Northern issues and a focusing on the EEC, supported by a general disillusion with the Left. Back in London on April 28 1971 it turned out that Fenner Brockway's Bill of Rights was again on the agenda. This occupied much time and space, culminating in a lengthy account of the lobby on May 5.
The objective of the lobby was to support the introduction of the Bill of Rights, which had been personally drafted by Greaves following discussions with Arthur Latham MP, Geoffrey Bing QC and Lord Brockway, as a private members Bill into both the House of Commons and the House of Lords on 12 May. In the House of Commons the Tories imposed a three-line whip to refuse it a second reading. This was granted in the Lords, but it was defeated on a second reading there in June. This was the pinnacle of CDG's achievement on the Bill of Rights and puts the other entries in context. I am indebted to AC for this addendum; I leave further exploration of the significance of this to the political historians.
Seamus O Tuathail on the May 3 1971 NN issue was reported as suggesting that the dismissed Fianna Fail Ministers actions were pointing in the directions of a general election, with a period of opposition, during which they would rehabilitate themselves, and make a bid for the leadership.
Around this time, or perhaps in 1970, I remember attending an Oireachtas event centred in Rosmuc, organised by Cearta Sibhialta na Gaeltachta, and a pirate radio was run for the duration, using equipment lent by the republican movement. This created political pressure for the official setting up of Radio na Gaeltachta. The above projected meeting would have been in this context.
WTS May 18 committee: language meeting problem; fo-coiste; Tailors Hall; Community Schools; Planning Acts; Liberties; Dodder; SF leadership.
There is a copy of a letter from RJ to Tomas Mac Giolla, inviting him to address the July meeting on 'short-term political alternatives to Fianna Fail in the context of the EEC threat, what role for the republican movement?' It was suggested that in the light of the constitutional revisions of the recent SF Ard Fheis it might be appropriate to examine how the philosophy of mainstream republicanism might adapt itself to the contemporary political situation. The meeting would be for members and friends only, and some key labour and trade union people would be present; also members of the Common Market Study Group. It was suggested that the feedback from this event would be helpful in drafting a political manifesto.
WTS June 1 1971 general: UMacE's paper 'Watchdog on Developers' (copy available in the archive). Larry Dillon (Liberties), Wilfred Raftery (Dodder Valley). Resolution called for meeting between Liberties people, admin of city, and dept of local govt. All-Dublin federation of amenity groups?
NN Issue #77 on June 13 contained a statement opposing the proposed Church domination of the boards of the projected Community Schools, and defending the secular democratic composition of the current Vocational Education Committees.
Malachi McGurran's Bodenstown speech was reported in the June 21 1971 NN issue; he aspired to working-class unity across the sectarian barriers in the North, and attempted to link the Northern situation to the impending EEC referendum. Then on June 28 there was a further attempt to define what was meant by the 'national liberation movement' in terms of a multi-class, multi-organisation anti-imperialist alliance with the working people in the lead; after the removal of alien imperial influences it would then be possible to build a socialist society. A follower was promised for the next issue, but this never came.
We have here increasing evidence of ideological confusion and political floundering; the shots were increasingly being called by the Provisionals in the North, and the attempted political road was being marginalised. The present writer was no longer in a leading position, but he contributed to the development of the 'Mornington School' during the following summer.
NN in the 3rd quarter of 1971, as well as the internment question, covers issues which include existing prisoners, the EEC, Radio na Gaeltachta, fishing rights, housing in Dublin, and the CIA.
The Mornington School was announced in the July 5 1971 NN issue, initially from July 4; there would be sessions on 'Imperialism and the Irish Nation', on 'the Cultural Revolution', and on the Northern situation. The School would be open for August and September also, in proportion to demand.
There is in the archive an m/s paper by Uinsean Mac Eoin, dated 'Sept 6' annotated 'discussed 14/7/71'. It is concerned about the politics of a federal agreement thought to be on the agenda between Heath and Lynch. It is not clear what its standing is. From the date September 6 it would appear to have been produced prior to the October 1970 Newry meeting of 'radical groups'.
According to local lore this action, which involved disabling an ESB sub-station (a hazardous operation), had a positive political effect. The present writer however wants to place on record that he had nothing to do with it, and would have opposed it had he known it was in prospect. It illustrates perfectly the nature of the problem of dealing with the still dominant culture rooted in the traditional military nature of the IRA, which had persisted despite my best efforts since 1965. The elitist role of the IRA, in acting 'for' the workers from outside, is the antithesis of that projected for the type of left-wing democratic activist organisation we had being trying to build. This was the beginning of the end of my association with the movement.
WTS July 23 1971: there is a letter from Anthony Coughlan seeking to get a Citizens for Civil Liberty speaker for a WTS meeting, in the context of public protests about the Forcible Entry Bill. There is a copy of a CCL leaflet.
WTS July 25 1971: there is in the WTS archive a document written by RJ entitled 'Notes on the Northern Situation'; it is worth reproducing in full, as it summarises the present writers then perceptions. It would have served as input to the August 3 meeting.
There are signs that the form of the political solution is taking shape. The 'two-nation' idea of O'Brien is more than a theory. It is fast becoming a reality, thanks to the worsening sectarian situation in Belfast.
Consider the following steps from the point of view of Britain:
1. Draw out the republicans into an insurrectionary position in Belfast and Derry. In Belfast, this has the effect of causing pogroms, splitting finally the trade unions, rendering any idea of working-class unity impossible. In Derry this has the effect of putting pressure on Lynch to intervene militarily.
2. Arrange with Lynch that this military intervention when it takes place will look like a withdrawal in the face of a provisional campaign, and that Lynch will recover more national credibility, thus gaining support for his EEC referendum.
3. Arrange a political leadership for the 'liberated area': this is the group which has withdrawn from Stormont. The factors involved in the setting up of this group were (a) the external affairs people in the Arts Club meeting (b) O'Leary. In other words, the civil service and the Labour Party channels of influence.
The form of the political solution is therefore a 29 county Free State, with movements of populations out of Belfast, and a split in the Trade Unions. This will look sufficiently like a step towards the Republic to gain Lynch some kudos, or maybe the alternative leadership which is waiting in the wings, if Lynch is not the man to do the job.
This at the time was our perception of what was going on behind the scenes, in the background of the 'arms crisis', with Haughey in the wings. We were convinced that the over-riding issue was membership of the EEC, that there was a Lynch-Heath understanding, and that re-partition was the goal. This perception has been dismissed as fantasy. But there was a plan to arm the Provisionals, and to do military training in Donegal. We were aware of numerous intrigues which were going on, all over. Who connived? Do we yet have the full story? The paper went on:
How is this strategy to be countered?
[A] Preserve working-class unity in Belfast. This is a tall oder, but may possibly be approached by the Belfast Executive (of the official republican movement) approaching the Trades Council, in writing, backed up by leaflets, press statements etc, repudiating the deeds of unknown arsonists, probable agents provocateurs, and bombers, on Protestant shops, especially co-ops which are the property of the workers. This repudiation should be accompanied by an offer to support local vigilante groups, set up under Trade Union control, to defend initially co-op property, ultimately peoples property from arson by these unknowns. Also to urge that the Trades Council, once these Peace Corps were set up, should press the military to confine their attention to protecting public property and to leave over patrolling of streets where the workers live, law and order being taken over by the Trade Union Peace Corps. Make it known that the official movement will give unconditional support to a Workers Peace Corps organised under TU control.
[B] Take the initiative in pressing the MPs who have withdrawn into a new position, different from the 'Catholic liberated area provisional government' position that they have got themselves into. Press them to bid to form an alternative government in Stormont on the common programme of opposition to the EEC with the anti-EEC elements in the Unionist Party. Try to convert the withdrawal into something different from a link in the Lynch-Westminster chain. The exact nature of this bid has yet to be worked out, but it must be such as to split the Unionists, and it must come with pressure from below, from trade unionists worried about EEC effects. And it should not look like a 'challenge to the Constitution', or the alliance with the anti-EEC Unionists is a non-starter. Again, a tall order, but it should at least be called for, so that some people in retrospect may see we were right.
There is no record of the status of this document; it probably is analogous to that of Uinsean MacEoin, though from a more left-wing perspective. The Provisionals were seen, correctly, as a totally destructive influence on the embryonic working-class unity we had tried vainly to nurture. It was of course hopelessly unrealistic, grasping a straws, in a disastrous situation. The starting-point, the 'Heath-Lynch collusion' in an EEC-oriented strategy, deserves the attention of critical historians. How much substance did it have? How important was strategy relating to the EEC in the minds of the Government, in the context of the Northern crisis?
There is a gap in the NN record from July 27 until August 16, when there was a statement from Northern Command, describing what amounted to a battle between the official IRA and the British Army, in an attempt to resist a swoop leading to internment. They called for a political solution, but not the one in prospect in the current Heath-Lynch talks.
In the subsequent commentary, Nuacht Naisiunta attacked the Provisional bombing of Protestant halls and premises, and the black-and-tan role of the British Army backing up the armed Orange mob. Under a sub-head 'what Heath wants' it was suggested that the role of the Orange mob had killed the 'new Union via the Lemass-O'Neill road'. His alternative was (a) to provoke sectarian strife to the extent of movements of populations (b) pull in the Border to include a 90% Protestant area and (c) do a deal with Lynch handing over some 'Catholic' areas. This was regarded as giving Lynch enough political capital to win the EEC referendum, and to give Heath an Irish puppet vote in the EEC Council.
Under a subsequent sub-head 'what Lynch wants' a complicated collusion was suggested between Fianna Fail, including HB&B, and the Provisionals leading to a '9-county Ulster' splitting 6-3 into 2 sectarian assemblies, the Belfast Catholics being sacrificed.
Progressive forces were identified, on Heath's home ground, in the Labour movement. The relevant demands were (a) to get Heath to use the Army against the Orange mob, and to disengage from the Catholic areas, and (b) to get Lynch to demand the immediate ending of internment (c) replace Stormont pending reform with a transitional body representing the Civil Rights and Trade Union movement (d) let the defence of the people be under non-sectarian Trade Union control.
The foregoing analysis has been dismissed as fantasy by some commentators, but does it not begin to look familiar when we contemplate the recent history of Bosnia? We were aware of the possibility of such a scenario developing when we were attempting to demilitarise the situation and develop a political approach via Civil Rights.
I suspect it of being basically the then thinking of Coughlan, perhaps with some input from Greaves, in desperation, under the pressure of a situation rapidly descending towards what we would now recognise as Bosnian. I had nothing to do with it; my attention at this time was on the Mornington School, where people were trying to absorb some of the historical background, including European political experience, and the experience of the Labour movement in Britain. We built up quite a useful library, which went historically back to the English Republic (as analysed by Rodney Hilton), included most of the Irish republican classics, also TA Jackson, Greaves etc, and most of the works of Connolly. Immediately after internment however it became obvious that the activists, however much they aspired to take the political road, could think of nothing but internment and all background political education was increasingly seen as irrelevant.
WTS August 16: I as WTS Secretary wrote to the New Scientist congratulating them on their 'riot control' article which had emphasising the political rather than the technical aspect. I followed up with an outline of our current position, summarising past history.
WTS August 17 1971 extended committee on the North: new draft from AC.
WTS August 23: revised Coughlan draft; Daltun O Ceallaigh formulation 'reformed Stormont'; 'imposition of democratic constitution from Westminster'. Irish translation - McCaughey - dialogue with provos.
The revised and expanded Coughlan draft was in the end issued as from the Society, and is on record. It covers 3 foolscap pages of single-spacing small type, covering much the same ground as the foregoing, in more depth. It drew a response from Garrett Fitzgerald, who '..found much to agree with in it, although there are some points on which I would put a slightly different emphasis. I should like to congratulate you on having prepared a rational policy statement at a time when so many people are reacting irrationally..'. He supported our opposition to 'direct rule'.
As well as issues relating to Civil Rights and internment, and the routine reporting of Cumann affairs, there were reports relating to the Ard Fheis, the UCD students strike, Sean O Cionnaith in the US, the EEC, and the 'federal deal', now re-named the 'Wilson Plan'.
WTS August 31 1971: Desirée Shortt for the Tailors Hall Directors wrote confirming our letting of the musicians gallery room above the main hall, and naming it the 'Wolfe Tone Room'. The Society occupied this for a time, and held its meetings there regularly on the first Tuesday of the month, starting September 7 1971.
WTS September 7 general meeting as gaeilge: O Caollai, O Glaisne, Aug 23rd statement; confession from Mac Eoin; Cristoir O Floinn.
A copy of the invitation to this meeting is on record; it was in support of the Civil Rights demands in the North; projected speakers also included Janice Williams from the South, while from the North there were listed Jack Bennett, Joe Deighan, Bernadette Devlin and Frank MacManus. In the event, Padraig O Snodaigh, O Caollai and O Glaisne spoke, and a letter from the North by Joe Deighan was read (the Northern list of names seems to have been somewhat aspirational). The 'August 23 Statement' was supported by a resolution. A statement by Maolsheachlainn O Caollai on behalf of Connradh na Gaeilge was issued to the press, in English, giving some historical background on the use of Irish by Scottish Presbyterian settlers in the 18th century.
WTS September 10 1971: Mellows/Greaves/Comerford event. This was a book-launch for Greaves to promote his Mellows book, and to present Maire Comerford with a copy.
It seems we tried to get people to sign the letter to Jack Lynch; George Gilmore wrote in declining, and David Thornley, then in controversy with Cruise O'Brien, felt it would be impolitic, while agreeing with the letter privately. There is a Hibernia cutting dated September 24 on Thornley's political position. WTS September 14 committee: finance committee set up; paper on tax reform and social services (RJ).
WTS September 28 committee: RJ's draft discussed. McCaughey and Unionist?
WTS October 19 1971 committee: AGM resolution; UMacE Dail Uladh; need to loosen up the Irish language constraint. Belfast November 21?.
There was an attendance analysis; the consistent supporters were RJ, CMacL, DK, AH and JR. Occasional were DO'D, SmacG, MOL. RR had dropped out.
There is a hiatus in the WTS record after this; meetings in the Wolfe Tone Room of the Tailors Hall continued for a time, and then later the Society started meeting in the basement of a house owned by Uinsean Mac Eoin in Mountjoy Square. We were there for some years, and various events took place, but the role of the Society became increasingly marginalised. The location was against it; once a visitor from the North spoke at a meeting, and his car was stolen. There are however a few relevant documents on record, and with luck more may turn up:
There was a reference to an educational conference in Greystones, to be held on November 21 1971, as an open event. Outside speakers included Matt Larkin, de Courcy Ireland, Oliver Snoddy and Tom Redmond, indicating a conscious aspiration towards a 'broad left' programme.
There was also a report of Malachy McGurran's speech at the Edentubber commemoration; by using this event they were asserting continuity with the 50s tradition, while changing the political message and distancing themselves from the Provisionals: '...can they justify their sectarian attacks on the Protestant workers, and would they agree with ...their leader when he says that if the Protestant people don't like the Provisionals Irish Republic then they can get out?' NN in the November 16 issue focused on visits to Dublin by British politicians; they urged no talks while there was internment in the North. It was reported that O Bradaigh and Mac Stiofain had admitted that they were prepared to meet in secret with the 6 Tory MPs. There was also an evaluation of the Ard Fheis suggesting that with the increased scale of the event there had been trouble over democratic procedures; they had attempted to concentrate discussion into 6 main resolutions.
NN: The call for 'no talks with the British until internment is ended' was re-iterated on November 22 1971 in connection with the visit of ex-Prime Minister Harold Wilson. This issue also contained a statement from the 6-county executive of the Republican Clubs which was supportive of the Civil Disobedience campaign being promoted by the NICRA, exposed a takeover threat, associated with Aidan Corrigan, as an attempt to develop a 'provisional' political base (the 'Northern Resistance Committee' set up in Omagh on November 21), and accused the Peoples Democracy of '..courting the Provisionals in an attempt to win the influence that they had failed to do within the NICRA..'. There has earlier been a Dungannon NICRA conference which had resisted this Provisional or perhaps Blaneyite takeover threat; the people concerned had retired to Omagh to set up their rival show.
These manoeuvrings need further analysis, perhaps in the context of the history of the NICRA and its attempts to keep the campaign broad-based political despite the developing Provisional campaign, and the 'officials' also being active militarily.
NN: The relative political positions of the NICRA and the 'officials' is illustrated in the November 30 1971 issue, in which they published in full the NICRA demands (effective local democracy under PR and reformed Stormont, not 'direct rule'; legislation against discrimination and sectarianism, and the ending of internment) but then went on to assert the demand for the all-Ireland Republic, and to highlight the role of the 'official IRA' which was then actively at war with the British. Sean O Cionnaith in the US had been experiencing trouble and misreporting in his attempts to explain this complex situation, with the Provisionals also being active.
NN in the December 7 1971 issue opened with an attempt to get Hillery in Foreign Affairs to take up the case of the internees, but then went on to publish a 3-page manifesto signed by Eoin O Murchu, with the title PRO. This attacked the 'Wilson Plan': a Commission drawn from the 3 parliaments in Dublin, London and Belfast, to draw up a new 32-county constitution, for an Ireland within the Commonwealth, with retention of special powers and internment. The statement countered by urging the development of workers' unity across the sectarian divide in the political struggle against the Common Market, which was opposed in the Protestant community by Boal and Paisley.
NN: Leading off with a partial list of prisoners and internees, and a listing of actions in Galway, the main content of the December 14 1971 issue was a report of an anti-internment rally in the Mansion House organised by the Dublin Comhairle Ceanntar. The speakers were Seamus O Tuathail (the editor of the United Irishman, who had happened to be in Belfast in a sporting capacity and had been picked up, but subsequently released), Malachy McGurran, Tomas Mac Giolla, Bernadette Devlin and Micheal O'Riordan. The principal message was supportive of the NICRA demands, as noted above, but the press it seems picked up on a remark by Bernadette relating to the assassination of Senator Barnhill, and the overall message was lost.
It was becoming increasingly clear that the role of the 'official IRA', in the context where the NICRA was attempting to develop a mass campaign of civil disobedience against internment, was totally counter-productive. The Barnhill episode was among the final factors which triggered my own withdrawal from membership of the movement. The embryonic left-wing unity suggested by the above Mansion House event was tragically aborted by the persistence of the military mind-set; this pathological tradition, fuelled by competition with the Provisionals, subsequently was syphoned off and flourished with Costello and his 'INLA', after the 'officials' in the end got sense and called a cease-fire.
The final NN issue of 1971 was on December 21; it reported the names of the officer board of the new Ard Comhairle: Secretaries were Mairin de Burca and Tony Heffernan, vice-Presidents were Malachy McGurran and Derry Kelleher, Treasurers Donnacha Mac Raghnaill and Janice Williams, Organiser Sean Garland, Publicity Eoin O Murchu, Education Derry Kelleher. It contains also a statement from 30 internees in Crumlin Road supportive of enhanced political actions to counter the negative effects of the Provisional bombing campaign, and to counter the threat of internment in the 26 counties.
The Year 1972, Bloody Sunday etcThe January 2 1972 NN issue led off with an account to Seamus Costello's speech at the Sean South commemoration in Limerick. Note that it was still policy to maintain continuity with the 1950s military tradition, presumably in the hope that by this means they would keep at least some of the activists from leaking away to the provisionals. The content of his speech however was basically broad-left political, seeking the Bill of Rights, and joint actions between the British and Irish Trade Union movements. Subsequent issues concentrated increasingly on the EEC as well as the anti-internment campaign, the civil disobedience campaign in the North.
NN: Bloody Sunday was covered in the February 7 1972 edition, calling for unity behind the NICRA banner, but also acting as a political outlet for the South Down / South Armagh command of the official IRA; '..the whole world (was) looking on in disbelief..'.
Shortly after this the present writer resigned, feeling that, given his precarious self-employed situation, he was no longer in a position to contribute anything, though he had hopes that the emergent 'left-unity' situation as indicated at the Mansion House meeting might consolidate, with the leadership in what appeared to be in good hands. This hopeful situation was however killed by the further descent into militarism, stimulated by the Bloody Sunday events and internment.
Nuacht Naisiunta however apparently had nothing to say about the Aldershot incident, where the 'official IRA' attempted to 'retaliate' for Bloody Sunday. Maybe one or more issues are missing from the record; there is no way of knowing, as the sequence numbering had been abandoned. The present writer went to see Goulding after Bloody Sunday, urging restraint, so as to keep the attention of the international media on the exposure of this British act of barbarism. The Aldershot event was however, it seems, already set up; Goulding said nothing.
NN: Tomas Mac Giolla on March 13 speaking at the UCC Republican Club attributed responsibility for the violence and terror in the North to all three government; he included Dublin '..because of its deliberate, calculated campaign through 1969 to split the Republican Movement and divert the Civil Rights struggle into a military campaign. Mr Lynch and his government were deeply involved in this as was Mr Tim Pat Coogan and some of his staff on the Irish Press. Their activities were documented in the pages of the UI in 1969 and 1970 and recently were again exposed by the London Times "Insight" team in their book "Ulster"..'.
Concluding Remarks on the RJ's SF Period
In January 1972 I formally pulled out of Sinn Fein, and, indeed, from the so-called 'official IRA', which had been showing signs of re-emergent militarism, consequent on the August 1969 events. I remained however in reasonably good standing, and was in a position to continue to help them with their internal education programme during the summer of 1972, at the 'Mornington School', although the environment was increasingly becoming poisoned by the internment process, with peoples' thinking totally dominated by perceived military objectives, and being 'on the run'.
Janice remained on the Ard Comhairle until the next Ard Fheis, at the end of 1972, after which she also bowed out.
Nuacht Naisiunta continued up to June 1976, constituting a record of the ongoing attempts to keep political republicanism going on a 'broad left' basis, the IRA remaining in existence even after it called a ceasefire in mid-1972. The political movement's attempts to survive, with sales of the United Irishman, distribution of anti-sectarian leaflets, support for the residual Civil Rights campaign etc, were increasingly restricted, being caught in the crossfire between the Provisionals and the INLA. I will have to leave the analysis of this period to others; Kelleher perhaps can be said to have made a start, though much remains to be done to counter the various dismissive academic analyses of the politicising republican left, such as that of Patterson.
It is important to put on record how in those days we did our best to transform the Fenian conspiratorial tradition into an open principled democratic one, using the best aspects of the Marxist democratic-revolutionary tradition, and trying to avoid top-down Stalinism, though this kept surfacing via Costello and those for whom the military tradition was dominant.
I remember Costello expressing admiration for Stalin, because he used to rob banks for the Bolsheviks!
Greaves never forgave me for making the attempt as I did; he wanted to let the Fenian tradition die, for lack of intellectual resources, and rebuild a movement from scratch, based on the organised working-class, with in mind Micheal O'Riordan as focus. He had had a hand in setting up the Workers League in 1948 with this in mind, and he had illusions about its potential. It was however a basically flawed concept. No way would this have been possible, given the dead hand of Stalinism, which to my mind was much more of an incubus than that of the Fenians and the IRB, though the latter of course had the potential to become a native Irish Stalinism, as indeed they did.
I think my judgement at the time was that there was more democratic potential in moderating and upgrading the Fenian tradition into a new-wave political force, capable of uniting broad strata of working people, including working owner-managers and self-employed, on an all-Ireland basis, than there was in narrow 'workerist' Marxist orthodoxy as embodied fundamentally in MO'R, and perceptibly in CDG and co.
I hope to develop this thesis with as much evidence as I can muster, and try to build a neo-Marxist 'market socialism' model, of which the central ideas is 'direct democratic control over the capital investment process by the people concerned', the State being the referee and not a player. The apostolic succession is Marx Engels Connolly but we have, as yet, no credible follower of Connolly of the same stature. Maybe we can provide the raw material to help one emerge, and I look to the left-green convergence to pick this up.
The germ of this idea is in my father's interactions with Plunkett House in the period 1913-1933, and I am on the track of this. There is actually continuity of philosophical position between my father and myself, which I did not recognise when he was alive. I have evidence that he was promoting the writings of Connolly in the 20s, on the international network, and that during 1921 and 1922 he was giving lectures on economics in the evening to working people in TCD, more or less unofficially, with the support of Tom Johnson.
RJ in the post-Sinn Fein SituationAfter the split RJ by degrees pulled out of the Republican Movement, keeping however the lines of communication open, and avoiding open confrontation, though being in serious disagreement with the way the policies were evolving back into military mode, in competition with the provisionals.
There is on record in the Greaves diaries a conference organised by the Dublin WTS in the Nuremore Hotel, Carrickmacross, in November 1972. This was a significant attempt to focus on Northern issues, and some of the papers were subsequently published. Anthony Coughlan was not present, being then pre-occupied with the post-Referendum development of the Common Market Defence Campaign and the Irish Sovereignty Movement. When he got sight of Jack Bennett's paper however he took steps to publish it, and there was some dispute over how the proceedings of the conference were to be published. In the end some of the papers appeared in various separate publications, and I don't think the conference was ever published as an integrated proceedings, under the WTS imprint, which is a pity, because in my recollection it was a significant event.
Opportunities arose in 1972 and 1973 to contribute to the journal Atlantis, edited by Seamus Deane. The first was to review the Irish volume of Tom Jones' Whitehall Diaries, and the second was to contribute to a symposium on the vision of a 'new Ireland'. Both were opportunities for political reflection, and they are available in full in the hypertext.
"The Belgrave Residents Association goes back to the early 70s, maybe about 1972. The trigger for its foundation was the demolition of a perfectly good house on the corner of Belgrave Road and Palmerston Road, by a developer who had got planning permission for the present apartment block which is there.
"Another motivation was the condition of Belgrave Square, which had been used by the C of I Diocesan Secondary School for Girls, then located in Adelaide Road, for games. It had fallen into disuse and was being vandalised.
"As far as I remember I made the initial moves single-handed, perhaps motivated by a need to regenerate democratic local government in Dublin; the Corporation at the time had been abolished, and local government was being run by a Commissioner. Making the Square the focus, I produced a document, a sort of statement of intent, and circulated copies of it around those roads which seemed to me to be potential users of Belgrave Square if it were to be taken over as a public amenity. I got some response, and managed to identify a resident of long standing in each road who agreed to put their name to it. It would take research to find out who these were; perhaps they need to be immortalised. Anyway we called a meeting in the old school on the upper Rathmines Road, courtesy of the R&R Operatic Society, which I chaired. We agreed on the document, and set up a committee, based on the road representation principle, and, as they say, the rest is history.
"We differed from 'mainstream' residents associations, in that we accepted residents whether they were owner-occupiers or tenants or flat-dwellers. In the early days we had a flat-dwellers representative on the Committee; it happened that the first such representative was a student in the College of Commerce and active in the Student Union. For a while this led to interesting things happening, like the Bulletin being used as a training ground for students of journalism.
"We lobbied the TDs and the C of I Archbishop, and a deal was done over the Square, between the Corporation and the C of I, to the mutual satisfaction. There was in the wings a danger of a private-sector takeover by a (non-local) football club, but this was avoided. There was much consultation over the landscaping of the Square, and in the end the Corporation did a good job.
"There was what amounted to a community of interest between owner-occupiers and flat-dwellers, the exploitative absentee landlord being the common enemy who skimped on maintenance and ran the property down. We produced a document which we served on the Corporation seeking that they impose the need for one tenant in each property to be designated as a caretaker, at a concessionary rent, and made responsible for the bins and general routine maintenance.
"Later we market-researched the idea that Rathmines should have its own local authority, opening up the Town Hall to its original purpose, and with the Aldermen of the elected Rathmines Authority serving as the overall Dublin Councillors. The Town Hall should be a one-stop shop for all relevant government and local government services needed by the citizen. This idea got some support, but we did not follow it through; it would have required an all-Dublin campaign, with a strong political dimension. It remains on the agenda.
"There were several episodes in the early days worth recording, but before we try to do this, we should perhaps attempt to assemble an archive of relevant documentation, and ensure it is kept somewhere. This would be a role for a Rathmines local government centre, if it existed. Maybe the current committee could look into collecting the archive; I can make my contribution, but I don't want to be the custodian.
"We had among the early members, and perhaps on the first Committee, Ferguson of the cake-shop, who had served on the Rathmines Council before it was abolished in (was it) 1932.
"That is all I can recollect without going into the existing fragmentary archive. I hope this will be a stimulus to the Association and to some local historian to dig deeper, and I will certainly co-operate."
The group also included some Trade Union people, including Robin Joseph, secretary of the Scientific Staffs Branch of ASTMS, and Betty Sinclair of the Belfast Trades Council. Seamus Scally was there from the Labour Party, Kevin McCorry from NICRA, Brigid Wilkinson from Amnesty International, Con Lehane from Citizens for Civil Liberty, John McGarry from the Irish United Nations Association, and the present writer from the Dublin Wolfe Tone Society. Joan O'Brien was there from the Language Freedom Movement; this was a cause of some tension in the group.
There was, needless to say, a core-group of Communist Party of Ireland people, including Micheal O'Riordan and Edwina Stewart; also Betty Sinclair as above, and Frank Edwards of the Ireland-USSR Society. This group also included leading left-oriented politicising republicans Tomas Mac Giolla, Sean Garland and Dessie O'Hagan. The present writer had resigned from the republican movement and had, for a brief period, re-joined the Communist Party, with the aspiration to help along the convergence of the republicans with the left, which seemed at the time to be beginning to develop a dynamic. This Moscow episode seemed at the time to be an indication of some degree of philosophical convergence between the two traditions, and the fact that a reasonably broad-based group could be assembled and persuaded to go to view the Cold War issues from a Moscow perspective, seemed to augur well.
Sean MacBride, who had been awarded the Lenin Peace Prize for his work in Namibia, as well as subsequently (1974) being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the International peace Bureau in Geneva, was prominent in the platform party in the plenary sessions, and made the opening speech, being reported by Donal Foley in the Irish times on October 26.
A highlight of the plenary sessions, apart from the Brezhnev speech (which seemed interminable, though I found it held the attention and was a valid statement of the problems presented by the then topical Arab-Israel conflict), was Salvador Allende's widow's account of her husband's overthrow by the CIA-engineered coup in Chile; this was then recent history. Donal Foley reported these in the Irish Times on October 27. (Shortly afterwards in Dublin, with the aid of Jim Fitzgerald I helped organise a concert of Chilean music by Isabel Parra, in aid to the refugees.)
Overall however the conference was a top-down railroading operation. There were various working groups set up, to discuss previously prepared documents. I attended the one on 'Economic, Scientific and Technological Co-operation', and contributed a prepared position paper, in which I attempted to develop a role for smaller fringe-countries in the 'east-west' in helping to transfer knowhow to the 'south' (I have outlined this in the techno-economic stream). Very little, if any, of the contributions of the participants, many of whom were dedicated experts of international standing, were embodied in the final documents, and this was remarked upon by perceptive participants, with whom I subsequently corresponded.
There was one Winston Riley from the International Labour Office who participated in the same commission as I did. We exchanged experiences, and he sent me afterwards a 3-page critical memorandum on the organisation and procedures of the conference, with which I found myself in substantial agreement. He was highly critical of the way the 'drafting committee' was railroaded into existence, and remarked on the fact that no notes were taken, so that in fact little or no re-drafting was done, and the original position paper stood.
Con Lehane managed to get a mention in the October 1973 issue of New Times, in which he was able to blame the current North of Ireland situation on British imperialism. It is not clear how he did this, or what working group he participated in; he was representing 'Citizens for Civil Liberties', but managed not to get reported on the Civil Rights aspect of the question. The nearest working group to the problem was the one on 'National Liberation, Struggle against Colonialism and Racism', but there is no mention of Ireland in the report, which ranges over practically every colonial trouble-spot in the world.
On returning to Ireland I found myself in the position of acting secretary to what became known for a period as the 'Irish Peace Group'. It was, presumably, hoped that there would be some cohesion, and some continuity of effort, but despite some efforts on my part, nothing ever came of this. It must go down in history, from the Irish political angle, as an interesting 'junket', from which some people perhaps may have gained some experience of the state of the 'international movement'. Those perceptive enough may perhaps have seen some early warnings of the subsequent demise of the USSR, as subsequently treated, for example, by Erwin Marquit.
Energy Politics: the 'Conserve' group in 1975As a result of the 1972 energy crisis, a lot of thought went into the politics and techno-economics of how to render Ireland less dependent on the world oil supplies. This led to the development of a technocratic lobby within the Electricity Supply Board which wanted to invest in a nuclear power station, the projected location being Carnsore Point, Co Wexford. Considerable local opposition developed to this, as well as opposition from the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and various radical groups. In this context I found myself the convener a group of engineers and concerned citizens, which we called 'Conserve'. The group had emerged by a convergence of interest between the Dublin anti-nuclear lobby and Wexford anti-nuclear residents. A paper was produced and circulated to TDs. I have outlined this paper in the techno-economic module, from which the paper in full is available in the hypertext.
In a letter to the press dated January 16 1975 I specified the objectives of the CONSERVE group, which had been founded at a meeting in Dublin on January 11 1975, as follows:
1. To campaign for a national energy policy which conserves fossil fuel resources whether native or imported, avoids hazardous technologies such as uranium fission and makes maximum economic use of waste heat.
2. To press for the over-riding in the national interest of commercial and institutional barriers to the conservation of energy as a resource. p> 3. To press for increasing participation by the State in the ownership and control of all fossil fuel resources.
4. To press for the establishment of a National Energy Authority, to co-ordinate the supply and distribution of electricity, low grade heat, gas, bottled gas, oil, and other lb2el in order to decrease the cost to the consumer.
The letter went on:
"Anyone who is prepared to support the above objectives in an active way, or financially, is welcome to become a member on payment of an annual subscription of £1. The active work is likely to be directed at bringing about legislative changes through the influence of educated public opinion and reasoned arguments on the elected representatives at local and national level.
"CONSERVE has been founded with the active support of the Nuclear Safety Committee, (a primarily Wexford-based group) which up to now has been concerned primarily with alerting public opinion to the safety implications of the proposed ESB nuclear power station at Carnsore Point.
"Dublin supporters of the Nuclear Safety Committee have met along with that (Wexford-based) body, and CONSERVE is the result. We feel that the general public both in Dublin and Ireland generally, concerned as it is with its fuel bills, is likely to want to lend support to a pressure-group seeking a rational and conservationist energy policy, with full economic use of waste heat, and complementary rather than competitive use of electricity, gas, coal, oil etc, provided it can be shown that fuel bills can thereby be cut...."
Supporters included Jeremy Hennessy, a technology journalist, Pat Henehan an architect, Brian Hurley a mechanical engineer who has since developed a specialisation in wind energy, and Derry Kelleher, a chemical engineer with whom the present writer had and still has considerable political empathy. The Wexford members included Helen Skrine, David Nolan and Cassie Quaid.
What amounted to a mass movement developed around the Carnsore Point issue, and there was a weekend anti-nuclear festival held there. The above probably contributed to the political outcome, which was that the nuclear project was abandoned, and the ESB went for the construction of a large coal-fired station at Moneypoint on the Shannon estuary. Sean Coakley, the ESB engineer who led the project, circulated, largely incognito, among the festival participants, picking up the vibes. It is to his credit that he backtracked, though the ESB did not otherwise respond much to the Conserve memorandum. There were some nods in the direction of mini-hydro and wind from the Government, advised by the national Board for Science and Technology.
Report to the Political Committee 3/04/75Retrospective comments, as usual, are in italics.
I feel I need to report on the position regarding the 'Economics of a United Ireland' study, and to seek guidance regarding the various options which are open.
To date I have specified a Marxist model of a small economy heavily dependent on external trade, at a level of abstraction similar to that of Crotty's (non-Marxist) 'Red Book' which he produced at the time of the Referendum (with some unacknowledged help from me).
This model is dynamic, in that it is capable of estimating the response of the system as regards outputs, employment etc as a function of State policies on social services, development funds etc.
It would be possible to feed in data related to (a) 6-counties (b) 26-counties (c) combined 32-county system and compare the dynamic performance. The combined system should perform better because the ratio of imports to consumption, in both of Marx's classical 'departments', should decrease; ie more jobs are generated per unit of extra State investment in proportion as the interconnections within the system are stronger relative to external trade.
The model is Marxist in that it takes account the population analysed by class, as well as taking explicit account of Marx's 'departments'. It also allows for analysis of taxation policy by class. By way of testing for feasibility, I have exposed the bones of the model at a seminar in Queens, in the Business Studies Department, and got paid for it. I have also shown it to Bristowe in TCD. No one has accused me of insanity. So I think it has a chance of standing up creditably.
My problem however is to get good input data. I have made some attempts to interact with Phil West (in Belfast), who is an economist by training, without conspicuous success. I am beginning to think that it is unrealistic to depend on him, and that the base of the work should be broadened to include contributions from progressive academics in Dublin who are within reach, and accessible for discussions frequently on problems of' relating the data to the needs of the analysis.
There are such people around, such as Alan Matthews, Cormac 0 Grada and others who were associated with the Common Market Study Group. Crotty is 'out' because although OK on the EEC he is absolute zero on the question of national unity (one of his many inconsistencies).
Alan Matthews, to whom I showed a working prototype version of the model, wrote a friendly letter commending the approach as being credible and worth developing further.
If I were to get support from one or other of these, it would do harm if I were to associate the work directly with the Party without telling them in advance. They might or might not, at this stage, accept such an association.
On the other hand, it would be feasible to do an academic study on this basis, and publish it in some place like the Statistical and Social Enquiry Society. Once this was done, I or anyone could write a popular pamphlet based on it, without the co-authors permission. This however would be unlikely to see the light much before the autumn, or even next year.
So we end up with the following position: any document produced by the Party for the June 1975 deadline will be based on qualitative arguments and will lack a quantitative core. It could, however, have the status of an improved 'Eire Nua', with class emphasis and less phony. Quantitative work for a June deadline is only possible by involving non-party people on a crash programme basis, knowing their objective. This is of doubtful possibility. Quantitative work for a 1976 deadline involving non-party people, on a developmental basis, is feasible, but consideration should be given to initial publication on a broad base (eg Sovereignty Movement).
'Eire Nua' was a qualitative model developed in the mid-60s for the republican movement, later hijacked and published by the Provisionals
Consideration should also be given to the tactics of publishing a qualitative document in June: should it come out anonymously as the Party, signed by me on a Party basis, or signed by me on a broad basis with due acknowledgement to the role of the Party in sponsoring it? Also, can I have a specification in writing, or terms of reference, so that there is no misunderstanding as to what is being delivered?
Finally, I need guidance as to what to do about ISM. I am on the Executive, but this has only met about twice during the year. The picture is Coughlan and 0 Loingsigh and a relatively passive and declining membership; marginally a useful window into Fianna Fail dissident thinking. Do I continue to spend time on this, and the Wolfe Tone Society, flogging a dying horse, or do I start afresh and build an academic progressive group as specified in the enclosed document which has been discussed and agreed by the 'academic staff group' (Leonard, Mew and myself)? How high are the WTS and the ISM rated as a 'common ground' area of the democratic forces? If these are to be kept alive, who should take Party responsibility for keeping contact, and avoiding future Mansion House fiascoes? MacLiam?
Brian Leonard was the Professor of Pharmacology in UCG, with a Marxist background in Britain. He has consistently been a supporter of progressive causes in the West. Peter Mew at the time was lecturing in the TCD Philosophy Department. The reference to the 'enclosed document' indicates that we must have produced some sort of declaration of intent for political action within the academic system at the time, but it has alas got lost. Perhaps it will surface in the CPI archive. I should add that I never had any response from the CPI leadership to this report, or the 'enclosed document'; I suspect that they simply did not know how to respond. It subsequently became apparent that they were uneasy at having to deal with the type of intellectual resources constituted by this group, and they ignored it, hoping it would go away.
1) Definition: 'Broad Work' is defined as work within an organisation of which the objectives, while falling short of the objectives of the Party, are desirable in themselves, in that they strengthen the consciousness and cohesion of those class elements on whose support the Party aspires to depend. Such objectives when achieved strengthen the Party, provided Party people have been seen to contribute a leading role in their achievement.
2) The classical 'broad organisation' in which the Party has given recognised leadership is the Trade Union movement. In political terms, this is important in proportion as the TU movement can be politicised and made to contribute its weight on national issues (eg PR and the EEC). However it is questionable how much influence the TU movement can have on voting patterns at local level, as the EEC referendum clearly showed.
3) The achievement of electoral support on a local basis is going to require the development of local-based mass-organisations and special-issue lobbies to the same level of organisational sophistication as the TU movement. (Examples of the former are tenants, residents, flat-dwellers organisations; of the latter there are the Resources Protection Campaign (RPC), the fisheries lobby, the public transport lobby, etc). In these developments, provided the lessons of the RPC are learned, the Party can play a leading role, initially through active individuals but ultimately as an organisation.
4) The following guidelines constitute a first attempt to distill the negative and positive experiences of the past into a positive code of practice for the future:
(a) Recognise the 'key importance of the 'middle ground', ie those people who support the objectives but are not yet politicised, so that they are suspicious of political in-groups. I£ this ground is lost, the enemy gains it. The explicit rejection of the middle ground by the doctrinaire leftist element in the RPC (as witnessed eg by the anti-Cahill resolution) (in retrospect: this must have been at the Athlone event) has sounded their death-knell as a serious movement, though to date the media have let them down lightly thanks to widespread sympathy for the cause.
(b) No-one should be in a broad movement simply as voting-fodder to vote down Group X. Only people who have a direct interest, visibly, in the objectives of a broad movement should be involved; such people if well-informed and articulate can persuade the middle ground to follow the appropriate effective tactics, avoiding opportunism and adventurism.
(c) Marxist theory can be used (in homework) to develop appropriate tactics: class analysis; definition of the interests of the groups concerned, definition of the main enemy and the alliance of class forces that can isolate him; this must be in layman's language and by appeal to objective interests (eg owner-occupiers with flat-dwellers against absentee speculator-landlords, with resident landlords as sometimes friendly neutrals).
(d) The most important rule in the book is the definition of membership, the most important aspect is whom it keeps out, this, by definition, constituting 'the enemy'.
(e) Party members at broad meetings should avoid cliquishness; they should mix with the 'middle ground', absorb a feel for the problems of the real world, then discussing them within the party on another occasion. Exchange of experiences of work in broad movements should constitute an important element in the education of members at branch level.
5) If the above practices had been adopted, and if Party influences had played a leading role from the start, the RPC would have been developed into an influential broad lobby, capable of driving a wedge between Labour and Fine Gael, and creating a bond between Labour and national-minded elements in Fianna Pail, with positive political consequences in the direction of the isolation of Pine Gael and the development of national thinking in the Labour Movement. Instead the doctrinaire leftist republicans have succeeded in narrowing, perhaps irrevocably, the RPC base.
6) The Party, in instructing its members to withdraw from membership of the RPC as well as boycotting the AGM, has over-reacted, forfeiting the opportunities presented by the monthly RPC local meetings for contact with, and education of, the RPC rank and file in the principles of democratic lobbying, and leaving many young republicans and uncommitted people without a political lead alternative to the Sinn Fein WP leftists.
7) There is no conflict between 'work in the Party' and 'broad work'; there is, on the contrary, a creative dialectical contradiction through which the development of the Party takes place. By gaining experience in 'broad work' and then distilling it within the Party, members can enrich both broad movement and Party.
8) The best potential recruits to the Party are those who evolve to full political understanding through a period of 'middle ground' membership of a broad organisation. Unorganised members of the general public who join the Party without a stage of active broad organisation are likely to be both doctrinaire and impractical having the zeal of religious converts. Too high a proportion of the latter type can present a barrier to the recruitment of the former.
This was an important factor in the case of the CPI, leading to its domination by doctrinaire Stalinist elements.
9) Unity on the left can only be realised in proportion as the various elements of the left adopt a democratic, flexible, non-doctrinaire approach to broad work, as outlined here, without attempting to dominate by mechanical majorities and packing meetings, but by persuading, educating and holding the broad non- political masses, thereby politicising them. For this unity to develop, it is not enough for leaders to meet; middle leadership and rank-and-file must interact and be prepared to learn from each other. This process has not occurred in the Left Alternative structure, this constituting its main weakness, as there has been no means of influencing the development of the ideas of the leaderships from below.
I append a copy of the most recent offending document (my circular from the Industry Office to selected academic staff members on the 'science and society question'), and a copy of my MS note to Helena expanding on it. No doubt it will be considered heresy to say that there is no way whereby the Soviet experience can help develop the standing of Marxism in science in Ireland, but it is my opinion that this is in fact the case, unless the Soviet experience is studied critically, and they are helped by this critical study to overcome the residuals of the Stalin (Lysenko) epoch. My note to Helena should be self-explanatory.
The note to Helena is in MS. It lists the progressive academics whom I had hoped to involve in a substantive 'science and society' type of seminar, had Helena's event with a guest Soviet scientist been set up to point in that direction. These included Paul Dowding (Botany), Kader Asmal (Law), Seamus O Buachalla (Education), David McConnell (Genetics), David Simms (Mathematics), Vincent McLaughlin (Physiology), John Kevany (Social Medicine), Anthony Coughlan (Social Administration), Robert Blackith (Zoology). All these were known by me to be strong on either political or 'social responsibility of scientists' issues, and some had direct links with science in the USSR. All could be expected to be friendly but critical of certain aspects. I stressed that this criticism had to be faced and dealt with openly; there were certain areas of Soviet practice which were indefensible; I gave some examples from the direct experience of Brian Leonard. Helena Sheehan had rejected my attempting to give support to the Marxist student-organised seminar in this mode, accusing me of trying to 'take it over'. We had an opportunity for a serious critical analysis of science in the USSR, with interaction with a Soviet scientist, and she was supported by the CPI leadership in rejecting my broad-based approach, and running an event which was in the end attended only by a handful of the faithful.
I now come to a more serious question: the content of the current Socialist. It contains two articles that relate to areas of broad work where I am active:
(a) Helena's article promoting the Jan 20 seminar. In this there is no cognisance given to any problem relating to the practice and reality of science in Ireland. She presumably wants to fill the hall with loyal party activists, who will be impressed by the fact that she is giving a learned paper in the presence of Soviet and British scholars. There is nothing in the article that I could use to help attract Irish scientists who are concerned with the social responsibility question, suggesting that she does not in fact want such people, as the weakness of her own academic position would then be exposed. Her aggressively negative reaction to my attempt to help to fill the hall for her suggests that she is aware of this weakness and wants to cover it up. Her whole strategy in organising the rejection of my proffered experience in the planning, by the use of heavy-handed PC directives adopted without proper discussion or analysis, suggests that from the start she was not concerned with developing any real interaction with socially responsible working scientists in Ireland, but was primarily concerned in establishing her own reputation as an academic Marxist in an environment such as to impress the uncritical.
(b) Eoin (O Murchu)'s article on the peace question. Does this mean that he is now to be built up into the big expert? If so, all the work I am trying to do, walking a tight-rope between MacBride, the Quakers and the World Peace Council, with a view to keeping intact the World Peace Council affiliation through the broadening process, will go for nought. It is not possible to build a broad movement in which the Party is accepted, if the Party is going to trail its coat on Hungary and Czechoslovakia in articles such as O Murchu's. We must recognise that the problems here had their roots in Stalinism and avoid trying to gloss over the existence of these problems by spotlighting the NATO destabilising role. We will not bring the Irish people definitively to reject NATO by reference to Czech or Hungarian experience! We are on weak ground and the people do not accept our arguments; they are confirmed in their impression that we are simply mouthpieces of the Soviet Embassy.
If I am to play a significant role in developing a Peace movement, and if this is to be my main party work, I do not want to be stabbed in the back by Stalinist doctrinaires. I want a recognised channel of communication to a leading party body, possibly to some international affairs committee, by some co-option process, which can be regularised at the next Congress, whereby I can be influential in blocking the rising tide of doctrinaire sectarian nonsense that is being instigated by a small group of pseudo-intellectuals whose stock in trade is dogma and rhetoric and who do not appear to touch reality at any point.
This group appears to have dazzled Micheal 0'Riordan and to dominate all thought and action within the Party. If it gains the absolute ascendancy, as it is rapidly doing, there is no hope for the Party playing any significant role in the development of a broad movement for the completion of the democratic revolution, as is its officially declared aim, and which I have been consistently fighting for one way or another for 32 years.
If O Murchu were to come out with the kind of stuff that he wrote in that article at any peace event I was connected with, I would have no option but to repudiate it and to try to undo the harm by conveying that not everyone in the party was of the opinion that the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia was a 'triumph for Socialism'. I would prefer to convey what the Soviet participant in the Galbraith programme retorted to Ted Heath, namely, that it was untypical, an exceptional situation, highly regrettable, we ourselves were divided on it.
Regrettably in saying this I would be 'against the line', but again I would have no option but to do so, as I had to repudiate the cultural line of the party as given out by O Murchu on a previous occasion.
I could go on and on, and no doubt will do so on the occasion of the 'execution squads', which hopefully will see its way to discussion of those issues in a relaxed manner in our house rather than in an 'on the carpet' type situation, which we are simply not prepared to accept, as we are not criminals and are not guilty.
Finally, may I place on record a request that if I am to remain in the Party, that I be relieved of the necessity of interacting with the dogmatists who called for my blood in the South Central Branch, on the basis of hearsay evidents from elements hostile to the Party in UCD, which they apparently regarded as important, disregarding the evidence of broad Connradh elements sympathetic to the Party who were actually present at the Project event. They just wanted their knife in me, because they cannot abide anyone with an independent critical mind, who does not buy their nonsense. How can I be expected to talk to such people? There are other branches where there is the potential for the development of broad low-profile local work, such as I have been doing with some success with ACRA, without flag-waving. I want to work with a branch that has some potential for generalising this experience. South Central has none.
I have no recollection what the 'Project event in UCD' was, but it would seem that I was continuing to be an independent critical voice in a manner which was increasingly an irritant to the dogmatists, and this probably contributed further to the venom with which my expulsion was implemented, in a totally bureaucratic manner, without any sort of discussion or hearing.
Circular dated 20/12/1977 seeking support from selected academic staff members for the seminar addressed by an invited Soviet scientist.I append a brochure from one of the student societies. I feel that some of the material presented deserves critical interaction with a peer-group from academic staff, particularly those who have participated in the 'Philosophy of Science' seminars of recent years. I also feel that what is being produced as PhD material in our own Dept of Philosophy in the field of philosophy of science should not be left free of critical appraisal by working scientists in College.
May I say that I am particularly keen to see a critical assessment, as I was invited to participate and had to decline, because I did not agree with the implied flow of enlightenment from the USSR and Marxist orthodoxy abroad into science and into Ireland. I would have participated if they had re-structured it, beginning with the problem at home, eg 'Science in a post-colonial environment'. This they did not see their way to do, though I'm sure the invited speakers would have, if asked, seen the sense of my proposal and gone along with it.
I feel that an intelligent critical audience would have the effect (a) of keeping the philosophers on the ground (b) raising the issue, with the Soviet speaker, of the role of bureaucracy and the State, many of us having negative experience of trying to interact meaningfully with our Soviet colleagues.
I can undertake to handle registrations on behalf of the student society if you wish to participate. I think the deadline is probably somewhat elastic.
On January 12 1978 a WTS press statement was issued supporting a recent statement by Taoiseach Jack Lynch reaffirming national unity as the aim, and calling for practical initiatives directed at breaking down partition mentality on the South, and developing areas of north-south co-operations. This was Sunningdale-time. The statement included the following: '..in the area of cross-border co-operation it should never again happen that a body like the EEC Commission would have to show us the way..'.
I hope to be able to analyse the later WTS Minutes eventually, if they can be found, but I came across a paper On the Problem of Democratic Unity which I read to the Dublin WTS on January 24 1978 and which was subsequently published in the anarcho-trotskyist periodical 'the Ripening of Time', issue 9, March 1978. This was associated, in the subsequent Ripening of Time Issue 13 evaluation, with a paper in Issue 11 by Derry Kelleher critical of the evolution of 'official Sinn Fein' towards the 'Workers Party' labelling. I hope to be able eventually to treat these in sequence in the context of the later WTS evolution.
There is on record in the WTS archive a Programme for 1978 which has the following items: Jan 24: AGM; Feb 14: 'British Attitudes to Irish Unity' (C Desmond Greaves); March 14: 'Attitudes to Irish Unity' (Fr McGreil); May 9 'EEC - a Step towards Irish Unity? (Micheal O Loingsigh); it then goes on suggesting titles without speakers, implying aspirations to cover areas like 'citizens rights', 'Labour and Irish Unity', control of education as an obstacle to unity, the political impact of religious differences, cultural diversity in a united Ireland.
There is no mention of this WTS meeting in Greaves' diary, though he was in Dublin for some time around this date; this suggests he did not set store by it.
During the 1970s I seem to recollect that the membership of the Society became extended and somewhat diluted; the meeting-place in Mountjoy Square contributed to its negative image; it attempted to provide opportunities the 'left alternative' network which included the Labour Left, the CPI and the 'official republicans, who evolved into the Workers Party via a period as Sinn Fein the Workers party. This trail was mostly sterile and I am not going to pursue it. The brief renaissance in 1978 was, I think, initiated by Anthony Coughlan, who tried to develop something around the opportunities presented by the Sunningdale Agreement, such as it was. I don't recollect any event at which the WTS was formally wound up, but the records remain with Anthony Coughlan, and we are indebted to him for their preservation.
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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 2003