Ireland: a litany of scandal

The Fine Gael minority government, propped up by its ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement with supposed opponents Fianna Fáil, threatens to survive the litany of scandal that has dogged it for over a year: illegal phone tapping; ‘misappropriation’ of EU funds; and two million – yes, two million – faked breathalyser tests, resulting in thousands of wrongful convictions for motoring offences. Yet they emerge into the New Year not entirely unscathed. New revelations in the years-old saga of corruption, cover-up and whistle-blower persecution in An Garda Siochana (the Free State police) eventually claimed the heads of a garda commissioner – Nóirín O’Sullivan – and a tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) – Frances Fitzgerald.

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Hands Off Ireland - H-Block: The struggle goes on


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 3, March/April 1980

370 men are enduring the barbarity of British imperialism in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh concentration camp. Throughout the history of British oppression in Ireland, the struggle in the prisons has been a central part of the fight for Irish freedom. Today, once again, Irish prisoners of war are fighting the British imperialist prison system.

On 1 March 1976 the right of special category status was withdrawn for all those convicted of offences after that date. Special category status was a covert recognition that Irish freedom fighters were political prisoners. It had been won by a Republican hunger strike. In March 1976 the British state began its long struggle to criminalise the Irish war of national liberation. This effort to brand Irish Republicans as criminals is a major part of British imperialism's war effort.

In September 1976 Kieran Nugent became the first man to be imprisoned under the new regulations. He refused to wear criminal uniform or do criminal work. He demanded recognition as a prisoner of war. He was given a blanket to wear. And so the struggle of the blanketmen began.

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The Communist Tradition on Ireland - Part 5: Revolutionary nationalism in retreat

 Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 11, July/August 1981

After the signing of the Treaty in December 1921 the small British Communist Party made it clear that, as far as it was concerned, ‘there is no Irish settlement’. In an article ‘A Fresh War in Ireland Soon’, The Communist argued:

‘The war on the British Empire is not over. It may be forced to assume other methods and disguises, but it will go on. Not till every trace of the British connection is wiped out will the Irish war of independence cease.’ (14 January 1922)

British communists then understood that the Republican struggle was not at an end. They fully supported the anti-Treaty forces. They urged Irish workers to continue the war against British imperialism. And they were critical of the Irish Labour Party’s and Transport Union’s neutrality in the face of the national struggle, arguing that they were seriously undermining the working-class cause.

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Interview with Sean Mac Stiofain

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 3, March/April 1980

In a recent interview with Hands Off Ireland!, Comrade Sean Mac Stiofain (former Chief-of-Staff of the Provisional IRA) made certain political points which will be of enormous interest to readers of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!. During the interview, Comrade Mac Stiofain said: ‘I only recognise one struggle, that's the revolutionary struggle against capitalism, imperialism and against racialism.' He went on to show the connection between the struggle against imperialism in Ireland, in Southern Africa and against racism in Britain. We reprint extracts from this interview below, but readers of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! are strongly urged to read the full interview in Hands Off Ireland! 10.

Hands Off Ireland: Can we ask you about the connection between racism and the Irish anti-imperialist struggle. I remember in AP/RN there was an interview with a representative of the Army Council and one of the points he made in answering a question about the movement in Britain, was that the Republican movement expected support from Irish people living in England and also from black people who experience the same type of repression as Irish people.

Sean Mac Stiofain: The struggle against British imperialism and the struggle against racism, which is a feature of imperialism, is one and the same. A revolutionary Irish Republican would naturally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor. It's just as basic as that.

HOI: The Republican movement condemned the police action in Southall. And there was a Provisional Sinn Fein contingent on the commemoration for Blair Peach when he was killed.

SMS: That would be only the right and proper thing for Irish revolutionaries in Britain. They should be sympathetic. And they should, whenever possible, take part in anti-racist demonstrations.

HOI: What was your impression of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!?

SMS: I'm very impressed indeed. I think it was a brilliant idea to produce a magazine which expresses support for the revolutionary struggle in Ireland, support for the revolutionary struggle in Southern Africa and organises opposition to racism within Britain itself. I found the magazine most informative, most educational and I agree entirely with the analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe.

I regard Comrade Mugabe as one of the greatest political leaders to come out of the struggle in Southern Africa. I'm quite sure he knows what he's doing and that he has his plans ready to deal with any eventuality. But nevertheless as a revolutionary I cannot help but be concerned for the people who are in the assembly camps. I see the situation in Southern Africa as one of vital importance to revolutionaries all over the world. Sooner or later the struggle within South Africa itself will be intensified. And I'm absolutely sure that the Americans, the British and the other Western European powers will back up the South African racist regime to the hilt to protect their own investments there. And I believe we will see another Vietnam type situation arising in South Africa. I go so far as to say that I predict the utter defeat of imperialism and capitalism in South Africa. It might well be the death knell of capitalism from the struggle in South Africa.

HOI: Does the Republican movement have any official position on the struggle in Zimbabwe?

SMS: You would get that from An Phoblacht which fully supports the revolutionary struggle there. A revolutionary movement, if it is a revolutionary movement, will support revolutionary movements all over the world. I refer you to my prison experiences in England during the fifties. When we received word in May 1954 that Dien Bien Phu had fallen we realised that it was a great revolutionary victory and it meant the end of at least that phase of the war. We were very pleased. We were in sympathy with the Algerian struggle, with the revolutionary struggle in Cuba. We were in complete solidarity with the anti-colonial struggles in Angola and Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Aden. Anywhere in the world. One revolutionary, if he is a genuine revolutionary, must support the struggle in any part of the world. And if the opportunity arises, give them any assistance, advice, moral support that he or she is capable of giving.

HOI: So it would be quite correct for HOI! to denounce anyone who said that the Republican movement was not internationalist.

SMS: Absolutely! Anyone who could say that the Republican movement is not internationalist does not know what they're talking about. I for one, regard the revolution in all these countries as one revolutionary struggle — the struggle against capitalism and its offspring — imperialism and racism. And the revolutionary in Ireland —his first duty is to promote the revolution in Ireland and by so doing he is helping the revolution all over the world. If only by good example! Revolutionary success in any part of the world is a success for all because it is going to encourage revolutionaries elsewhere to take action. So I regard our struggle in Ireland, the struggle of the Basque people, the struggle in Zimbabwe, in Southern Africa, in Southern America —anywhere in the world —as one struggle. Our victory will be their victory. Any defeat that any revolutionary movement suffers is a defeat for us all. And I'm quite sure that we will see more and more co-operation between revolutionary movements.

The Great Escape! – Review of Out of the Maze

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 89 September 1989

h blocks

Out of the Maze by Derek Dunne. Gill and Macmillan, 170pp., £5.95, 1988.

Out of the Maze is the story of how the IRA pulled off the impossible. Like the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic, the Maze/Long Kesh prison was built of watertight compartments. Each of the 8 H-blocks a prison within a prison, beyond the blocks a further two sealed compounds, a double ‘airlock’ main gate stood between the prisoners and the countryside beyond.

Basing his book on the accounts of a number of participants, Derek Dunne has produced a lively narrative of a truly epic event (the largest breakout in Europe since the Second World War) without losing sight of the political context amidst the drama. The significance of the escape is explained in terms of the current phase of the struggle for Irish freedom. The planning of the escape took place at a time when the movement had been suffering a number of setbacks. The supergrass strategy was in full swing. Not only were scores of people suffering internment by remand, but many had also been convicted on the word of paid perjurers such as Christopher Black and Raymond Gilmour. The aim of this strategy was to put Republican activists behind bars.

In 1983 British strategy received two devastating blows. As Belfast street murals put it, ‘Lean comes clean’. In October ‘supergrass’ Robert Lean retracted at a Sinn Fein press conference, having given his RUC Special Branch minders the slip and driven off in their car. The same Belfast walls were still freshly painted from the month before celebrating ‘Meals on wheels for 38’. The IRA had taken control of H-Block getting 38 republican prisoners out on the daily food lorry.

This book is very revealing, not only in terms of the ingenuity and organisation of the IRA, but also in terms of the nature of the prison-struggle in the period following the defeat of the 1980/81 hungerstrikes. Dunne shows how the British administration was forced to recognise the Republican command structure which remained solid throughout, how the British authorities were outmanoeuvred in their attempts to end segregation of republican prisoners, and how ending the no-work protest was used to gain access to the workshops either to disrupt them or use them for the prisoners' own purposes.

The collaboration of the 26-County state is highlighted. Those who were not recaptured within a short space of time (about half of the escapees) have had to stay on the run. The 26-County neo-colonial state has even handed back Paul Kane. With the recent collapse of Christopher Black’s evidence, he should have been a free man, but the 26-County neo-colonialists have sent him back to the Six Counties on the sole charge of escaping from a sentence that has been quashed.

Dunne reckons these people have played an important role in reorganising the IRA, allowing it to step up its activity again after a period of heavy blows from the RUC and British Army. His examples are convincing. Padraig McKearney in particular was involved with developing the strategy of targetting isolated RUC barracks so that a ‘third phase’ of the struggle could be achieved in which isolated pockets of resistance could be held. Between January 1984 and the end of 1986, 70 such attacks were mounted.

However, Gerry Kelly, one of the escapees, recently told FRFI that he would see the significance of the escape differently: ‘It had a great political impact … the morale among nationalists was low and the escape did a lot to change that. It showed that prisoners and the Republican Movement could, in a period when things were bad, hit the Brits back in a place where they felt safest.’

But as to the role of individuals: ‘I could think of people who got out who had a great effect on the movement, but if the insinuation is that the Republican Movement really needed them, the movement has gone on for a very long time and has lost a lot of its best people through assassination, hunger strikes or into gaol. We are a confident people. There is no one person who is not expendable in the sense that we cannot do without them.’

Some of the escapees have fallen victim to Britain’s shoot-to-kill strategy. On 8 May 1987 Padraig McKearney died during the 22nd attack that year. All eight IRA men were shot dead by the SAS at Loughgall RUC barracks. Most of Britain’s assassinations have gone unnoticed outside of the Six Counties, contracted out to Loyalist murder-gangs supplied with all the necessary details from military intelligence or the RUC to carry them out. One such assassination was the shooting of Larry Marley – Papillon – who masterminded the Escape from the Maze, an utterly selfless act in which he could not directly participate. The character-study here of Larry Marley is a monument to the calibre of the politics and people involved in the IRA, and the description of his funeral a testimony to the political level and determination of the nationalist people whose cutting edge is the armed campaign of the IRA against the British occupation forces. 

Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed