Struggle in the North
Organisation: People's Democracy
Author:Mike Farrell
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

3rd March 2008

This pamphlet, produced in 1970 and written by Mike (later Michael) Farrell, was an explanation, as it were, for the stance adopted by Peoples Democracy. Peoples Democracy were a fascinating group, for many reasons (and this is not the first example of material from them in the Archive). They were pivotal at a certain point in the earliest period of that phase of the conflict bringing both some sense of a broader struggle to the North, and perhaps also a certain blindness to the complexity of the forces they were dealing with. Having said that they can, at least in part, be accorded the responsibility of actually pushing a political edifice over, something their peers (other than in France) elsewhere around the world didn’t quite do (actually, anyone who has read David Caute’s book on 1968 will have noted the curious omission of Northern Ireland from it’s analysis).

To some degree what is interesting about this document is the way in which those explanations became an accepted part of a broader explicatory narrative of the early point of the Troubles for the left. Then again there is an interesting avoidance of significant mention of the IRA and its activities during the period. Is it possible that they didn’t wish to give any emphasis to a rival pole of oppositional and (in the Official incarnation at least) an increasingly Marxist analysis? Moreover there are also the usual vague outlines as to future strategy. For instance, in the final section “the Socialist Solution” the final call is as follows (please note that the photocopy doesn’t actually include these last three paragraphs due to an unknown error):

This is no easy option. The resistance of the Protestant workers will be hard to break down but at the moment they are drifting in a vacuum, a prey to Fascism, but at the same time more receptive to socialism than ever before because their allegiance to the Unionist party is finally being destroyed.
The “moderates” and the anti-partitionists can never reach these people. The timid and prevaricating constitutional “labourites” can never hold them because their dishonesty is plain to see. There is no point in trying to trick the Protestants. It must be made clear that imperialism is the root cause of the problems of Ireland, North and South. But these people can be won if they see that a Socialist Republic is not Rome Rule in disguise and if they are recruited to an organisation of genuine socialists fighting Green Tory gombeen men in the 26 Counties as vigorously as the Orange Tories in the North. The only solution is the building of a 32-County socialist movement fighting the immediate battles of the workers on both sides of the Border, but all the time showing that the ultimate solution is a Socialist Workers’ Republic and all the time preparing to bring it about.

Naturally, but how to get there. That’s the rub. I’m not entirely convinced that the ‘solution’ was achievable then, or indeed now, in quite that form.

You can also get the text here, although I think that you miss something without having the chance to see the dodgy hand rendered drawing on the cover - albeit it is in black and white here (and you get the paragraph above!). Finally, Farrell wrote, to my mind, a rather fine history of the RUC from its inception. Well worth a read.

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  • By: Starkadder Mon, 03 Mar 2008 12:24:51

    I just read the preface, with its reference to Blaney & Boland’s
    activities in NI.
    I wonder is there any truth in the claims by people like
    Roy Johnston that those two (and Haughey) were trying to move
    the Irish Republican movement to the political right?

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  • By: Garibaldy Mon, 03 Mar 2008 12:59:51

    I think Starkadder it’s fairly well substantiated by now, not least by John Kelly, the recently deceased founder of the Provos. Kelly was always clear that what he was at was with the support of the Dublin government. Justin O’Brien’s book on the arms crisis also details a lot of this. There’s some interesting stuff in Tom Hennessey’s Origins of the Troubles as well. So it’s not just numerous people who stayed with the IRA (such as Francie Donnelly who was contacted in county Derry or John White in Derry city) but from Provo sources too.

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  • By: Ed Hayes Mon, 03 Mar 2008 15:14:30

    My understanding of their history and evolution was that there were like the late 60s slogan, ‘One, two, many PDs’
    First the loose Queens civil rights students, led by Trots and anarchists (like John McGuffin)
    Then the tighter Trots of 1970-71 very focussed on catholic/protestant unity and the Irish Labour party
    Then the post internment (and remember Farrell and McGuffin were interned) ‘theres a riot going on’ or a war actually, and the Provos are the only ones fighting it so support them
    Then smaller, developing a line that saw the Protestants as colons and potential fascists
    Farrell on hunger strike for 40 odd days
    Then unity talks with groups that even I can’t name
    Then murmours of setting up their own armed wing
    Then the H-Blocks
    A lot of effort and energy into the prisoners campaign and then post 1981 Meehan and Speed and co. feck off into Sinn Fein
    Not sure what point Mike Farrell leaves but a small group carry on until the present….
    The only point about the above is that PD in 1969 or 1971 or 1975 is not neccesarily the same thing at all.

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  • By: Ed Hayes Mon, 03 Mar 2008 15:20:59

    Sorry, I should have mentioned that John McNulty was elected a councillor in Belfast in 1981 and that Joe Harrington was a PD councillor for a long time in Limerick or Shannon.

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  • By: NollaigO Tue, 04 Mar 2008 06:54:06

    Is Joe Harrington still in politics? Didn’t PD have another councillor in the North? (O’Hare?)

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  • By: Ed Hayes Tue, 04 Mar 2008 12:09:01

    Fergus O’Hare, I think he joined SF but I could be wrong. Don’t know about Joe Harrington. I beleive Tom McGurk among others were in the early Queens PD.

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  • By: Starkadder Tue, 04 Mar 2008 13:37:16

    Garibaldy-thanks for the references. I will try to look up the
    O’Brien and Hennessy books.
    Roy Johnston’s webpage has an article where he criticises the
    views of Sean McGouran on the origins of the Provos:

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  • By: Starkadder Tue, 04 Mar 2008 13:38:24

    Sorry, the link’s actually:

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  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 04 Mar 2008 16:40:50


    I knwo you’re a fan of the IPR, so if you look at the ones from around summer/autumn 2003 you will find a letter reprinted from the Irish News of July 29th I think from John Kelly giving his version of the arms trial business.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 04 Mar 2008 18:27:12

    Tom McGurk. Which Tom McGurk? Not Tom McGurk who writes for the SBP?

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  • By: Ed Hayes Tue, 04 Mar 2008 19:02:39

    Yes, thats the one, a broad church in QUB back then!

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  • By: Starkadder Tue, 04 Mar 2008 19:23:34

    I thought this passage by Johnston was interesting…

    “Lurking behind the current Tribunals is the habitual use of the added-value of land on rezoning as a means of political bribery. [Sean
    McGouran] appears to discount this, and to accept the FF smokescreen attempts to discredit the Tribunal process. The latter however does leave much to be desired, in terms of cost to the public finances.” *

    Johnston also suggests some laws to solve the problems
    in the planning process,including a law to make the
    added value on rezoned land public rather than
    private (which reminds me of Henry George’s land tax

    *How about sending the Guards in to investigate corruption

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 04 Mar 2008 20:12:34

    Clearly Ed. Cheers, for that Starkadder. Johnston a mutualist. Who’d have thought it?

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  • By: Starkadder Tue, 04 Mar 2008 20:27:47

    Michael Davitt was inspired by Henry George’s ideas,as
    were many early socialists…in fact the average Victorian
    socialist was more likely to be inspired by George, Ruskin
    or Robert Owen than Marx & Engels.

    McGouran is still whinging about the B&ICO’s old
    enemies (the Connolly Association,the Stickies and
    especially People’s Democracy) in the Irish Political
    Review. He also,bizarrely, misinterprets
    Johnston’s criticism of FF corruption as a
    hatred of the entire party.He comes across
    as a very bitter and backward looking man.

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  • By: Starkadder Thu, 06 Mar 2008 09:59:18

    Michael Farrell is still active in Dublin as a human rights
    activist and solicitor:

    The successors to People’s Democracy, Socialist
    Democracy, have a blog which occasionally publishes
    interesting stuff:

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