Saturday, August 22, 2009

Going gaa gaa about Galbally

Around the middle of last week I was enjoying a well earned day off by sitting in my living room sipping a cup of tea (two sugars), nibbling on some soda bread (Ormo) and sifting through the increasingly impressive Irish Left Online Document Archive over at The Cedar Lounge Revolution, the contents of which should be essential reading for any left-wing trainspotter out there. In amongst the glut of PDF pamphlets, newspapers and poorly designed leaflets (the existence of the latter should, incidentally, prove to all of us that dodgy grammar has been around a lot longer than SMS text messaging) I was delighted to come across a February 1981 edition of The Workers Party’s old monthly publication Workers Life. The headline on the front cover was particularly eye catching to a football and hurling fan such as myself: VIOLENCE AND THE GAA. Wow. I quickly topped up my cuppa and stuck another soda under the grill. This article had to be devoured. Immediately. Preferably with soda and tea.

The article itself focussed on a Provisional republican march which took place in Belfast on December 6th 1980. According to the Andersontown News at the time approximately 3,000 members of the Association marched along the Falls Road to Casement Park where they listened to a speech delivered by PSF Vice President Gerry Adams in support of the anti-H-Block/Armagh campaign. Sound familiar? It should. The event instantly reminded me of that infamous gathering at the same venue back in 2006 when thousands of people defied Rules 7 (a) and 44 of the GAA constitution by gathering at Casement Park to mark the 25th anniversary of the hunger strike. Incidentally, Rule 7 (a) is that law in the Association’s rulebook which stipulates that the organisation is “non-party political” while Rule 44 stipulates that facilities “shall be used only for the purpose of or in connection with the playing of the Games controlled by the Association.” The gathering of December 1980 was, therefore, clearly in breach of that rule. The assembly a quarter of a century later at Casement Park was once more an obvious violation of the organisation’s constitution. Still, given the bad publicity which nationalists received following the August 2006 event you would have thought that they would have been doing their best to avoid a repeat of this unfortunate episode, wouldn’t you?

Well, sadly not for as anyone following the local news here in recent days will no doubt have noticed yet another row has erupted between Sinn Fein and, well, basically everyone else in Ireland over the use of a GAA ground for blatantly political reasons. The storm centres around the use of Galbally GFC’s pitch in Tyrone for the Provo’s National Hunger Strike Commemoration in which, according to An Phoblacht, “as many as 10,000 people joined with representatives of the families of the 1981 Hunger Strikers as they marched through Galbally, the birthplace of Martin Hurson, to a rally at Piarsaigh an Ghallbhaile GAA grounds.”

Distasteful as this lethal cocktail of sport and politics is it was made all the more revolting by the presence of men wearing paramilitary gear, balaclavas and carrying replica assault rifles, a photo of which can be seen at the top left hand side of this page. Sinn Fein have responded by dismissing these images as examples of nothing other than mere “street theatre”, however this is to miss the point completely. I am not for one moment suggesting that the people behind the masks were little more than wannabe hardmen and rebel song-loving culchie geeks out to get that same sort of thrill from seventies terrorist gear that similar oddballs in other parts of the world get from throwing on some Waffen SS kit. No, what I find objectionable is the whole bloody thing - the very concept of any GAA ground being used for this purpose. The guys pretending to be gunmen are only a part of it so lets not focus on them too much or start to think that if only they had been taken out of the equation that this commemoration would have been acceptable. It was not. As well as this, I simply do not believe any republican out there that says they cannot see the harm in what took place. If they seriously cannot understand how some members of our community would not be offended by their little piece of “street theatre” then they are either lying or are exceedingly dim.

Let us also not permit the spectre of DUP goon and Sinn Fein’s Stormont coalition partner Nelson McCausland to distract us from the seriousness of the Galbally incident, as some nationalists seem to be attempting to do. Just because one of the most hideous manifestations of old fashioned sectarian unionism has been the most vocal critic in his camp in relation to what happened last weekend does not make my or anyone else’s opposition to the Tyrone commemoration any less valid. Nor does Barry McElduff’s claim that club premises in the Republic have been used in recent times for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael gatherings make the Provo commemoration any more justifiable. The rulebook cannot state it any clearer than it already does: non-party political. That rule must be upheld regardless of whether the people in question are Fianna Failers, Blueshirts, Shinners or Stickies.

The GAA must now act swiftly to make sure that this does not happen again. Back in 2006 they punished the organisers of the mini-Nuremburg event at Casement Park by refusing to make tickets available to senior Sinn Fein members for that year’s All-Ireland football and hurling finals. Oh, how the Ard Comhairle must have chuckled that day. This time Headquarters has to display some balls and show that it will not tolerate the flaunting of its rules by anyone and if that means suspensions or expulsions then so be it.

I do not want to sign off on an entirely negative note though. I should perhaps say at this stage that I am extremely proud of the GAA. It is one of this island’s great institutions. On September 22nd 2002 it provided me with one of the greatest day’s of my life. It is, like the National Health Service and the credit union movement, an example of socialism in action. It is a peoples collective. To quote Tom Humphries of the Irish Times, when the “newspaper says the GAA cleaned up X million from a weekend of lucrative fixtures you know that's fine. Liam Mulvihill doesn't have a diamond earring and a cocaine habit. There's no new bling bling coming to some spoilt millionaire superstar. The money percolates. It buys coaches, development schemes, clubhouses, and a huge chunk of it goes back into county teams.”

Founded by the children of the Great Famine, this Association has survived the Home Rule crisis, the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, the Civil War, two World Wars, recessions, depressions and the northern Troubles. It will no doubt survive the hiccup triggered by the actions of a few halfwits in Galbally. Yet for all its achievements it remains flawed. The precise nature of these flaws and how they would be best addressed is a topic for another day, but until the GAA addresses them we can expect another Casement-style incident at some point in the future.

Liam Cassidy’s article in the February 1981 issue of Workers Life featured an interview with Tom Woulfe, then a senior figure in the Dublin GAA. The piece included a quote from Woulfe regarding what he, and I, consider as one of the Association’s flaws, namely the nature of its membership:

Let us not indulge in massive self-deception. The GAA includes practically nobody of the religious minority in this country - the minority which, by and large, coincides with the political majority in the north. It even excludes a significant section of the majority as well. Accordingly the co-religionists of Tone, Emmet, Davis, Mitchell and Parnell are outside the GAA. If anyone says to me - and some have said it - ‘Let them come in on our terms and if they don’t let them stay out,’ my reply is that my vision of Ireland is the Ireland of Tone and Davis and I do not say let them stay out. I want them in. They are my countrymen. Let them who will differ from me at least have the grace to refrain from quoting Tone and Davis.

Those words were uttered back in 1965. A lot has changed since then yet almost half a century on there are still many in the ranks of the GAA that could learn a lot from the words of Tom Woulfe. The unity of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter remains an honourable goal. It will not, however, be achieved by displays of the crude macho brand of sectarian nationalism witnessed in Galbally on Sunday.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rocket annihilation to Cypriot bandit pirates you say?

I have been learning the ropes of the microblogging for just over 24 hours now however this little gem from the official DPRK Twitter page (yes, they actually have one) is the undisputed winner of the most outrageous tweet of the day:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Strife beings at forty

I never have been much of an admirer of Sinn Fein and it is probably safe enough to say that I never will be. Yet as loathsome as I happen to find the Shinners even more detestable must surely be the current band of malcontents to have emerged from the party in recent weeks airing their frustration with the present path being trodden by the Adams-McGuinness leadership. The dissent of these individuals is not what I find particularly distasteful but rather the manner of, timing of and justification provided for their dissent. In short, why now? More importantly, what does it tell us about the future for Sinn Fein, especially south of the border?

For starters it is worth taking a look at the example of Dublin city councillor Louise Minihan. Comrade Minihan was one of those moderately attractive younger types that joined Sinn Fein in the late 1990s, a period when then the movement still possessed enough tonnes of explosives in order to make impressionable young recruits feel as if they were up to something exhilaratingly dodgy even though they could take comfort in knowing deep down that this was also an era when everyone was fully aware that the future for the Provos lay in the safety of cosy political respectability (so, no need to worry about the sort of things that bothered less photogenic recruits back in the seventies and eighties, such as, for instance, jail or long term unemployment). Resigning from the party last month, Louise announced that she had become disillusioned with the organisation because "Sinn Fein is no longer challenging the capitalist system or partition that have caused so much hardship to the Irish people." Excuse-moi? Challenging the capitalist system? Perhaps I haven't been paying attention properly but was this really what republicans have been up to for the past forty years? I think not.

Let's go back a few decades, to late 1969/early 1970 and the split within the republican family, and ask ourselves why exactly did people choose to join the 'new' IRA at that time. I can think of three motives which would probably have accounted for the vast majority of those that sided with the Kevin Street squad in the great schism. Firstly, there would have been those like Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill who treated the principle of abstentionism and all that Second Dail bullshit with almost biblical sacredness. Secondly, there would have been the angry northern hotheads who would have been willing to go along with anyone willing to fire shots at the Brits and the Prods. Thirdly, and finally, there was the significant part played by family ties in determining which camp one fell into during this pivotal period in Irish history. Often clan loyalties proved to be as crucial a factor as the more grandiose issues of armed struggle and abstentionism.

Yet did masses of people back then really veer towards the fledgling Provos in order "to challenge the capitalist system"? I very much doubt it. This isn't to say that there were no left leaning people in the Provisionals. However, if building a Leninist vanguard party was your number one priority in 1970 then the Stickies was where it was at, regardless of whether your name was Tomas MacGiollla or Seamus Costello. Indeed, if anything it is actually more likely that a hatred of Marxism would have motivated some of those joining PSF and the PIRA in the early seventies. The Stickie denunciations of the Provisionals as 'armed Celtic supporters' and 'Hibernian gunmen' were probably a lot closer to the mark than the imaginary anti-capitalist movement that Louise Minihan believes she resigned from last month. So, to sum it up, why should Louise Minihan be upset at a party which was never formed with the intention of abolishing capitalism suddenly appearing as if it has no interest in abolishing capitalism? The answer to this is simple: she shouldn't be surprised.

Now to return to that question I posed at the beginning: why now? This one really irks me, particularly in the case of Ms Minihan. I have always been baffled by how long it took the penny to drop with so many republicans that their leaders were taking them down the dreary road of an internal settlement coupled with boring old reformist politics. It certainly dropped with Ó Brádaigh and Ó Conaill early on - 1986 - but with the armed struggle in full swing they didn't have a hope in hell of causing a big enough split in the movement to make their RSF a potent force. Another decade passed before the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, a miniscule inconsequential pressure group that following the bombing of Omagh could never be mentioned in the media without the words 'the political wing of the Real IRA' accompanying it, was formed by a group of disgruntled Shinners peeved off by their leadership's acceptance of the Mitchell Principles. It is in this period, between the party's entry into peace talks and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April of 1998, that anyone under the impression that Sinn Fein was a revolutionary organisation dedicated to the establishment of a 32 county socialist state in Ireland should really have jumped ship. Even so, it was around the same time that disillusioned individuals like Anthony McIntyre, Brendan Hughes, Tommy Gorman and numerous others were leaving the Provisional fold that a young Louise Minihan made the decision to join the organisation. In other words, a woman who joined the movement after the sell out took place is now bemoaning the fact that the movement have sold out. At least Christy Burke, the other Dublin councillor to desert the party this summer, earned his right to become disenchanted with an organisation he served for forty years.

The organisation to which Minihan and some other discontented Shinners are moving towards, éirígí (all lower case by the way), is a peculiar little beast. Left republican in nature, the group rejects any resumption of violence and instead plumps for good old fashioned agitprop and attention grabbing publicity stunts (click here for a fine example). Like the Ballyfermot lass the founders of this relatively new splinter group appear to have been able to suffer quite a bit of selling out up to now. Over the best part of a decade they endured ceasefires, the Mitchell Principles, the Good Friday Agreement, decommissioning, power sharing with right wing unionists and all sorts of 'historic' compromises until finally the party's declaration of support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland finally turned out to be the straw that broke the camel's back. You would have thought that after having accepted every other aspect of British rule in Ireland that éirígí could have come to terms with supporting the policing reforms but it wasn't to be. Incidentally, I found it a wee bit surprising that Louise Minihan is said to have "spoke eloquently" in favour of Sinn Fein taking their seats on the Northern Ireland Policing Board at that landmark 2007 Ard Fheis in Dublin. Confused? I'm sure certain people in éirígí are as well.

So, what now for the chuckies?

For those people that have left Sinn Fein I cannot see much of a long term future for them. Someone like Christy Burke probably has a high enough profile in his area to ensure his re-election on an independent ticket but it is difficult to see éirígí making any more of an impact electorally than the dissident republican candidates that contested the 2007 Stormont elections. I could be wrong but I have a hunch that éirígí will turn out to be, like the Republican Congress of the 1930s, an interesting footnote in the history books of the future rather than a political force.

As for the 'traitors' of this piece, it is possible that further and potentially more damaging splits lie ahead for Sinn Fein. The party continues to retain a very varied membership base, ranging from old fashioned reactionary rural Catholics (remember Gerry McGeough?) to more urban proletarian activists (a la Christy Burke). In the golden era of the nineties and early 2000s nobody in PSF could have been bothered raising questions about anything so quaint as principles, ideological convictions or the direction in which their movement was going. Now things have taken a turn for the worse and questions are being asked in public about things that would have been previously unthinkable.

While the movement is still solid up north, the last three elections in the Republic, while far from being catastrophic for Sinn Fein, were still a major disappointment for a grassroots that had expectations of bigger and better things. The loss of Mary Lou McDonald's seat in Dublin during the Euros was another major body blow. The fact that a self-styled (supposedly left wing) anti-establishment party is seeing its vote decrease in a time of economic crisis is not a good sign at all. If the next general election witnesses a further decline in support then there is a possibility that the Provos (in the south at least) may find themselves going down the road of Clann na Poblachta - a flash in the pan party with no lasting influence. The other possibility is a major split. So far the party has suffered only the loss of individuals or the resignation of small local groups but nothing of the magnitude of the Democratic Left/Workers Party split of 1992. Such a development can never be ruled out though it may take until after the Pope-like figure of Adams finally steps down from his position as An Uachtarán that we could see the prospect of a division emerging that is capable of tearing apart the organisation from top to bottom. Of course, there is a third scenario whereby everything goes swimmingly for the Shinners and they manage to avoid any disagreeable developments. That, however, does not seem likely. Though it is not clear whether future internal strife will be the result of north-south tensions or left-right divisions, one cannot help but get the feeling that Sinn Fein is going to have to cross a bridge in the not too distant future.

This winter will see the fortieth anniversary of the foundation of the Provisionals. It has been a long hard road for those republicans that have managed to drag their movement into the 21st century and build a political party that enjoys the support of tens of thousands of people throughout this island. Keeping it there may yet prove to be their toughest battle.

One small step

Although I am not entirely sure just what exactly it entails, I have decided to perform a massive u-turn and sign up with Twitter. I very much doubt that the microblogging genre will be my thing but I may prove myself wrong. Anyhow, here it is: yourfriendinthenorth on Twitter. Now, how does one express themselves adequately in just 140 characters?

Don't worry. I don't have a Facebook account... yet.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Go home and prepare for opposition

The economy in crisis. War in Afghanistan. Unemployment rising. A remarkably poor Conservative Party somehow light years ahead in the opinion polls despite the fact it is being led by a bunch of fairly average run-of-the-mill lightweight politicians. Hey guys, I know what we need: a dance tsar. Just how does this sort of wretched idea get off the flipchart it appeared on in some internal party brainstorming session and suddenly become hard policy? I have refrained from saying it until now but, let's face it, when things like this are going on it is hard to avoid accepting that the Tories have the next election in the bag. For Labour the 2010 Westminster election will essentially be a damage limitation exercise. After that it'll be time to start thinking about assembling a radical and effective opposition capable of capitalising on the inevitable public disappointment there will be with Prime Minister Cameron and his cronies. And after that Labour should be back in power by approximately 2015.

It's all about optimism, comrades.

Will the government's dance tsar still be in a job by the time Labour get back into power? Well, that requires a whole different level of optimism.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Essential reading

"The Provisional IRA was born of a myth that it was needed as a defender of the Catholic community. That myth is its own creation in its own self interest."

Time to start the endgame

You may recall a couple of years back Johann Hari suggesting in the Indie that Israel begin direct negotiations with Hamas. Johann offered several reasons to justify his position. Firstly, offering to meet them at the negotiating table would be a test of just how genuine they were about making peace; if they were sincere then wonderful, if not then Israel would come out smelling of roses. Secondly, he suggested that the Islamists had been surprisingly pragmatic since they overtook Fatah as the largest grouping within the Palestinian family (they observed a truce with Israel, abandoned suicide bombings, opted not to implement sharia law and respected all previous Palestinian Authority agreements). Hari also shed light on another beast being bred in the slums of Gaza City, one even more gruesome than Hamas. There was, he claimed, small Taliban-style jihadist groups that wanted to see a Palestine free not only of Jews but also of any trace of modernity, hence such acts as the bombing of an internet café in the Jabalya refugee camp.

This week saw a jihadist group called Jund Ansar Allah declare an Islamic emirate in Gaza and stage a show of strength to challenge the authority of Hamas. The leader of this new Palestinian faction, Sheikh Abu al-Nour al-Maqdessi (now dead according to some reports), was described as "mad" by a Hamas spokesperson. I think it's fair to say that once Hamas start describing you as mad its safe to assume that you may just be slightly insane. The actions of Jund Ansar Allah (Warriors of God if you must know) certainly seem to suggest a fair degree of lunacy. Two months ago the organisation had three of its members killed when they attacked an Israeli border station on horseback. While I would not consider myself a military strategist in any sense of the phrase I would be reasonably confident in stating that equine forms of transport are probably not the best way of getting about when it comes to combating the IDF.

Nevertheless, horses or no horses, it would be foolish to dismiss this ramshackle Salafist movement simply as a joke. In a time of crisis the eccentric fringe can quickly become the mainstream. Jund Ansar Allah's numbers are admittedly small, estimated to be only a few hundred at the present time, however with twenty-four people dead in Gaza over recent days the Warriors of God now have a fresh new list of martyrs to use as propaganda against Ismail Haniyeh and friends.

There can really only be one reaction to all of this: talks to once and for all resolve the Middle East question must begin and begin soon. Enough time has been squandered in recent years. The longer this dispute is left to smoulder the more extreme the positions on either side appear to become. Indeed, it speaks volumes that we are currently witnessing a battle taking place within the Palestinian community in which Hamas are viewed as the 'moderates'. From one perspective it could be said that things look bleak for the future. Both Palestinians and Israelis have elected hardliners to represent them at their most recent elections, yet this could also turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Although it was a bitter pill for many to have to swallow, an agreement between Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley was always going to be more likely to provide for a stable future in Northern Ireland than a treaty signed by John Hume and David Trimble. Opinion polls in Israel have shown on several occasions that a majority of people there are ready for negotiations involving Hamas. Deep down many in the Israeli establishment must know that the matter of facing Hamas across a negotiating table is more a question of when rather than if.

There is an alternative, of course, which is to have a so-called 'settlement' that excludes around half of the Palestinian people. Were that situation ever to arise, Jund Ansar Allah may not remain on the eccentric fringes of Palestinian life for too long.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Apolitical celebrity fuckwit

"The very best that can be seen about her aspiration – as described on television – is that she hopes to become an assiduous and influential welfare worker. We do not know, and there is no evidence that she knows herself, if she favours entry into the EMS, the renewal of Britain's nuclear deterrent or the part privatisation of the Post Office. Nor has anyone bothered to ask her... Politics is, or ought to be, about great issues – the rival definitions of the good societies that the contending parties hope to create. Nothing has done more to discredit politics and diminish politicians than the absence of the ideological conflict that MPs, actual and prospective, should be judged on – their policies and the beliefs that those policies reveal. The rest is necessary and rewarding. But an MP's job is politics. Defining it in any other way is a danger to democracy."

Roy Hattersley
Friday 31 July 2009

The heading and the quote above are referring to Esther Rantzen by the way, just in case the penny didn't drop with the picture of her bothering some poor old Alsatian. Esther, who has announced her intention to run as one of those populist 'anti-sleaze' independent candidates in Luton South at the next general election, yesterday had the chance to set out her stall in the slightly odd surroundings of the Pat Kenny Show (sans Pat).

Now, I won't make any secret of it - I hate Esther Rantzen. Always have done. Always will. And, no, its not just because she dismissed people in Northern Ireland as being "addicted to violence" following the recent racist attacks on Romanian families in Belfast. My dislike of this lady has been in existence for quite some time; That's Life! was a load of bollocks, I'm sick of hearing about her work for ChildLine and the simple fact that she appeared on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! is enough to justify the temporary return of capital punishment just so we can rid ourselves of her and everyone else that has ever had anything to do with it (look, anyone that has featured in two television programmes that have exclamation marks in their titles are bound to be idiots). So, I'll be honest and admit frankly that I didn't actually want her to come up with some 21st century equivalent of The Rights of Man, albeit one delivered through the medium of a morning chat show on RTE Radio 1. Thankfully, there was never a hope in hell of her doing any such thing.

After being invited by the presenter to set out her manifesto for the voters of Luton South, Esther enlightened listeners by informing them that she is "left of the hard Tories, right of the hard Labour." She also apparently believes in a "mixed economy" and feels that everyone should have the "right to practice the religion of their choice." And then she mentioned that she has an interest in children's issues (obviously). The thing is, this doesn't actually tell us anything, does it? I could probably use these words to hazily describe my own views, though I would like to think I could do a lot better than her dismal effort. The vast majority of MPs too would most likely have no problem with this vague statement of principles. Most people reading this will also probably fall into her catch-all political philosophy. Shall we call it Estherism? Rantzenism? Whatever its called or not called the chances are this fool will be returned as the Right Honourable Member for Luton South come the next general election. How tragic.

When Roy Hattersley's accusation that she stands for absolutely nothing was raised by the presenter of this morning's programme, Rantzen could only respond by writing him off as an old fashioned "tribal" party liner. He may be, Esther, but it sure beats the hell out of standing for fuck all.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Vertical what?

This story appears to be a few weeks old but forgive me for picking up on it late, I've been out of the country. It does make one wonder though: is Michael O’Leary being deadly serious or is he simply taking the piss after watching some old DVDs of Brass Eye and The Day Today?

Speaking of which...

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

It's August...

... And, as promised, regular blogging has now resumed. Please excuse me for today's slightly lazy effort; I'll write something original as soon as I get my suitcase full of reeking socks and boxers washed. Until then, enjoy Shatner. I'm off for an Ulster fry and a cuppa tae: