Tommy McKearney speaks to Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

tommy_mckearney‘Normalisation is normal as defined by Britain; it’s not defined by people like me or you.’

On Sunday 29 May, around 1,500 people marched in Glasgow to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Irish hunger strike in which ten republicans gave their lives in the struggle against British rule. The event was organised by the 1980-81 West of Scotland Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee. The march was made up of working class men and women from across Glasgow and Lanarkshire; there was a noticeable absence of any of the groups on the left aside from supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!.

One of the speakers at the rally was Tommy McKearney, who joined the Republican Movement in 1971, becoming Officer Commander of the IRA’s Tyrone Brigade. He lived underground from the commencement of internment without trial in August 1972 until his eventual capture in October 1977; he was tortured by police officers in the notorious Castlereagh interrogation centre and sentenced by a non-jury Diplock court, to life imprisonment for the killing of a member of the British Army, Ulster Defence Regiment, based on ‘confession’ evidence. He joined the blanket protest and the first hunger strike, spending 53 days without food between October and December 1980, before the protest was called off. After the summer long hunger strike of 1981, he became Education Officer for IRA prisoners in Long Kesh. Following the Sinn Fein decision to drop abstentionism in 1986, he left along with other prisoners to form the League of Communist Republicans. He was released in 1993 and was to become one of the most articulate critics of Sinn Fein’s accommodation with British rule. After the march, Paul Mallon and Connor Riley spoke to him on behalf of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

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Ireland: loyalist mobs on the rampage

Loyalist rioters

This year’s loyalist marching season has seen intense street fighting across the north of Ireland as thousands of unionists took part in their annual display of supremacy intended to intimidate the nationalist minority. It started on 20 June when hundreds of loyalists attacked nationalist residents in the Short Strand area of East Belfast. Images of the subsequent street disturbances, which involved running street battles, were broadcast around the world, belying the image which is normally projected of a society at peace. On 12 July, nationalists in north Belfast faced police attack for opposing a supremacist loyalist march through Ardoyne. Other disturbances took place in Derry, Craigavon and Portadown where nationalist residents came under attack from members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). In Portadown, immigrant families from East Timor fled a nationalist area after experiencing a racist loyalist attack.

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The Irish hunger strike: were you with Benn or the H Block men?

Photo: Tony Benn speaks on an ANL platform in London, 8 December 1980
tony_benn_speaks_on_an_anl_platform_in_london_8_december_1980

The announcement that Tony Benn has been invited to speak at a Sinn Fein conference in London on 18 June commemorating the 30th anniversary of the 1981 Irish hunger strike is an insult to the struggle of the Irish people. Benn’s record during this period was one of unstinting support for British imperialism. He was a member of the Labour government whose strategy of criminalising the Irish liberation movement precipitated the prisoners’ struggle for political status and eventually led to the hunger strike. Not once during this period did he attend a demonstration in support of the Irish prisoners, not once did he stand up for them in public.

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Ireland: New coalition, same attack on the working class /FRFI 220 April/May 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 220 April/May 2011

On 7 March Fine Gael and the Labour Party formed a new coalition government in Ireland following the 25 February general election. The previous Fianna Fail/Green Party coalition had become the first government casualty of the economic and social crisis in the Eurozone. The new coalition is committed to implementing the austerity programme of its predecessor and to ensuring that the crisis in Ireland will be resolved at the expense of the poor and working class. As we have argued, there can be no capitalist solution to the crisis; the new government can do nothing to extract Ireland from its financial and social crisis.

Fine Gael took 36.1% of the vote and now has 76 out of 166 TDs (members of parliament), with the Labour Party taking 19.4% of the vote and gaining 37 TDs. Fianna Fail, which had held power for 20 of the past 23 years saw its vote crash from 41.6% to just 17.4%, reducing it from 73 TDs to 20. The Greens, who had helped prop up the previous coalition, lost all six representatives. Sinn Fein increased its vote from 6.9% to 9.9%, taking it from five to 14 TDs, with leader Gerry Adams topping the poll in the border county of Louth.

Corporation tax

None of the main parties had anything to offer the working class other than increased attacks on living standards. What united them was defence of the extremely low corporation tax rate of 12.5% – one of the lowest in Europe. It has been a source of dispute in the EU, with Germany and France arguing that it should be raised and be linked to the terms of the loans given to the Irish state. The corporation tax rate in Britain is between 21% and 28%. In France it is 33% and in Germany 29%. It was this low rate of tax which helped Ireland attract foreign investment which led to ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom. At its height between 1999 and 2002, Ireland became the world’s most profitable country for US corporations, with profits doubling in that period. Today, Microsoft, Google, Intel, Facebook, Paypal and eBay are among those multinationals headquartered in Ireland which benefit from the low tax rate.

Sinn Fein also supports the lower taxation, despite its radical rhetoric during the campaign. The party is already in government in the Six Counties, where it is implementing savage cuts; these will deepen following elections to the Northern Assembly on 5 May. It was suggested in the UK Budget on 23 March that the North could see its corporation tax lowered in line with the Twenty Six Counties in order to attract private foreign investment to the public sector-dependent statelet.

One feature of the February election was the success of the United Left Alliance (ULA), a coalition of left-wing parties including the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, which won five seats. The ULA was formed in November 2010 as an electoral coalition in opposition to the crisis in Ireland. While its programme (www.unitedleftalliance.org/about-us/) contains many progressive points, such as opposition to the bank bail-out, calls for jobs and defence of the public sector, it has been criticised by some Irish socialists for lacking an explicit socialist standpoint and for its avoidance of the national question. It is not clear at this stage what it represents or whether it will fight for and advance the interests of the Irish working class.

Battles ahead

The new government faces battles both in its relationship to Europe and with the escalating social crisis at home. New Prime Minister and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and his deputy Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore want to renegotiate the terms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union bail out. (See FRFI 218 ‘Ireland – economic crisis escalates’) On Germany’s insistence Ireland will pay substantially more interest on its EU loan than it will on the IMF loan. At a summit of the heads of government of the 17 Eurozone countries on 11 March, Kenny called for a reduction in interest rates on the EU loan. German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded that ‘there must be some give and take’. Germany and Britain are the major creditor nations to Ireland and as such will exert dominance over Irish affairs. The conflict over Ireland’s low corporation tax continues as we go to press on the eve of a European Summit on 24/25 March, with Kenny insisting that an increase to the corporate tax rate would be ‘non-negotiable’.

It is unclear for how long the current social and political peace will hold in Ireland. Job losses and insecurity are on the increase. In 2007 unemployment stood at 4.7%; today it is over 14.6%, and is only offset by increasing migration. Every week 1,000 people migrate overseas; as one young woman told RTE television, ‘you don’t go to parties any more, you go to going-away parties’.

The economic crisis is still in its infancy and political forces capable of resisting the savage cuts and attacks on living standards, which will intensify in the period ahead, are yet to develop. The important question to ask now is where are the political forces who are prepared to fight for and defend the interests of the Irish working class?

Paul Mallon

Ireland: the election is over - the real battles lie ahead – 4 March 2011

fianna_failed

Following the 25 February General Election, negotiations are continuing between Fine Gael and the Labour Party, who are set to form a new coalition government. Whatever the finer details of the coalition agreement, the new government will not extract Ireland from its financial and social crisis.

The Irish parliament has 166 seats.  Fine Gael now has 76 TDs (members of parliament), who will be able to govern in coalition alongside Labour’s 37 elected representatives, at the expense of the outgoing Fianna Fail/Green coalition, which the electorate overtly punished for its part in the crisis. Previous ruling party Fianna Fail’s parliamentary representation was drastically reduced from 73 to just 20, while the Green Party, which previously held six seats, is now in the political wilderness, having lost them all.

Sinn Fein (which joined the unanimous call of all parties for low business taxes) did well in the election, with its representation increased from five to 14 TDs. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams topped the poll in the border county of Louth and will take up his seat in parliament. Sinn Fein says that it is the only party which can fight the cuts in the Twenty Six counties; however in the Six Counties (north of Ireland), its elected representatives - governing together with the right wing Democratic Unionist Party - are implementing savage cuts.  The United Left Alliance, a coalition of various left-wing parties, won five seats.

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Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed