A DEBATE to discuss the above question at the Teachers’ Club, Dublin, was organised by the United Ireland Association with Tommy McKearney and Clare Daly being the debaters on June 16th.
Tommy McKearney is a long-time Republican, formerly of the Provisional IRA, 1980
Hunger-Striker and ex-Republican prisoner. He was, along with Anthony McIntyre, a founder of the Republican Writers’ Group which, while not advocating armed struggle, was critical of the Good Friday Agreement, of Provisional IRA and in particular of Sinn Féin. He is currently an Organiser for the Independent Workers’ Union.
Clare Daly is a long-time Socialist, a former trade union shop stewart and has been a Teachta Dála (member of the Irish parliament) since 2011, formerly as a member of the Socialist Party and now a Left Alliance TD. She has visited Republican prisoners and raised issues about their treatment in court and in jail. Daly was also arrested for trespass at Shannon Airport, along with fellow-TD and partner Mick Wallace, protesting against the use of the airport by US military flights and for transporting of political prisoners of the US military to jails in various parts of the world.
TOMMY MC KEARNEY
Tommy McKearney spoke first and stated that there was an issue of defining Republicanism and that sometimes what was meant was the anti-monarchic Republicanism of France or the United Stated but he was going to discuss it in terms of a specific Irish-based ideology, i.e Irish Republicanism.
Mentioning a number of Left-Irish Republicans such as Fintan Lawlor and Wolfe Tone’s famous quotation about relying on the “men of no property”, Tommy developed a line of reasoning that sought to say that there was not a huge difference between Irish Republicanism and socialism and drew attention to the fact that James Connolly had founded a party by the title of the Irish Socialist Republican Party.
Going on to talk about the objective of Irish Republicans, Tommy stated that not only is a republic desirable for Ireland – it is necessary. Only a Republic that is based upon socialist principles can resolve the economic and political problems facing Ireland today on both sides of the colonial Border.
Referring to the British election results in the Six Counties, Tommy commented on the 238,915 votes and seven seats for Sinn Féin – an increase of 14,670 votes – and the rise of almost 67,000 votes for the DUP with their ten seats. Sinn Féin had been pushing a peace process which was not about peace but about normalisation; their claim to intend to bridge the sectarian divide was empty and the voting lines were drawn up along sectarian lines at least as deeply as before.
Tommy also speculated that the amount of votes cast for Sinn Féin, on a platform of refusing to take their seats in Westminster showed, among other things, the amount of people in the Six Counties who did not care to be represented in a British Parliament and presumably would want representation in a united Irish Republic. He called for an alliance of Left Republicans and Irish socialists and recalled that James Connolly had founded, as well as the Labour Party, the Irish Socialist Republican Party.
Clare was next and she in turn highlighted the difficult issue of defining the Left – did it mean the parties that defined themselves as Left, did it include the Labour Party – some would say yes, others no. For Clare it is not issue of the names we give parties or activists but of what we stand for. Clare said she stands for a socialist country and in that sense for a Republic.
Addressing the question for debate, Clare owned that maybe socialists had neglected the national question — maybe they had been put off by images of balaclavas and guns — but it could equally be said that Republicans had for decades neglected social questions such as women’s reproductive rights, women’s rights in general, gay rights …. However, in more recent times, Republicans were seen actively supporting those rights.
Over recent years, Clare said, we had seen the gains our parents fought for in terms of trade union rights and local authority and state services lost or undermined.
Clare said she saw herself as a citizen of the world but as she lived in Ireland that she stood for a Republic that was organised along socialist lines and gave equal rights to all. The real question, Clare stated, is how we are to achieve that and pointed to the swing to the Left in Britain with Jeremy Corbyn’s party receiving a big increase in votes, despite media hostility and predictions of failure. The Conservative Party could only rule now with the support of the DUP’s 10 Mps. Clare said that opportunities of a Left Front existed in Ireland too as was seen by the Right to Water mass marches with broad political party and some major trade union support.
CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE, RESPONSES FROM THE PANEL
Included in contributions from the audience were the following:
Sinn Féin had seven MPs to the DUP’s 10 and should consider abandoning their abstentionism and go to Westminster to assist Corbyn in voting legislation
While the Labour Party in Britain had moved to the Left, Sinn Féin in Ireland had moved to the right
Good debate from two good speakers but also two who had put themselves out there for what they believed – Tommy McKearney in armed struggle in the past and hard prison struggle and Clare Daly in protesting US military use of Shannon Airport and also visiting Republican prisoners in jail, along with a few other Tds.
We need more debates like these and also to focus on Republicans with regard to where they stood with regard to socialism.
The Irish Left as a whole has divorced itself from Irish Republicanism, probably in fear of being associated with nationalism and/ or armed struggle. In doing so, it has walked away from continual violation of human rights, e.g of Republican prisoners in the jails and of civil rights, the right to political dissent of Republican activists on both sides of the Border.
The Irish Left has neglected to confront British Imperialism and left the Republicans to confront the various visits of the British Queen and the recent one of Prince Philip, when major roads were shut and even civilians impeded in going about their business or even going to their local shops or to visit their relatives’ graves in Glasnevin and a megaphone wrested by an undercover policeman backed up by a riot squad from the hands of a person about to speak to a protest demonstration.
Republicans are socialists and to pose the two as different categories was ridiculous.
There should be a broad Left front in Ireland including the trade unions and Sinn Féin.
Among the responses from the panel were that people were hung up on condemning Sinn Féin and should welcome them into a broad Left mass movement on the model of the Right to Water and Right to change campaigns (this from Tommy McKearney)
The socialists might not have done very well opposing British imperialism but had opposed US imperialism, which is one of the imperialist powers in operation in Ireland (this from Clare Daly) and a major one in the world.
The contributor who said that “Republicans are socialists” seemed unaware that historically at least this certainly was not so. Seán Mac Diarmada, the Irish Republican executed on the same day as the socialist James Connolly, had been on record as saying that no-one should support socialism. During the War of Independence, some IRA units took actions to support landless labourers and poor farmers but others took action to repress these in favour of big farmers.
The IRA had a ban on Communists through the 1930s probably up to the 1960s. Sean South, prominent Limerick IRA Volunteer killed in the Bessborough RUC Barracks attack in 1957, was a conservative Catholic, anti-Communist member of the Knights of Columbanus and of An Réalt (Irish-speaking section of the Legion of Mary).
The broad Left front being advocated by a number of people seems to be a reformist social-democratic one and, while there is nothing necessarily counter-revolutionary about fighting for reforms, clarity is needed about whether what they are advocating is a social-democratic program or fighting for some reforms while at the same time openly organising with a revolution in mind.
Clare Daly has certainly fought hard against US Imperialism but others on the Left much less so. The mobilisation against Hillary Clinton’s visit to Dublin was not great and gave up in the face of police opposition before they even reached City Hall and there was no mobilisation at all against Obama’s visit to Dublin in May 2011 and it remains to be seen how much there will be if he comes this year, as he has reportedly promised to do. But the question of oppposing British imperialism is a crucial one since a) it is the main imperialist-colonial power at work in Ireland and b) because it is the main prop of US Imperialism in Europe and in the UN.
There would seem to be fertile ground for debate on the historical and current differences between Irish Socialists and Irish Republicans, as well as for discussing possible joint action and one hopes for many more debates and discussions of this nature with a broad attendance.