Times Change, No. 5
Organisation: Democratic Left
Publication: Times Change
Issue:Number 5
Summer/Autumn 1995
Contributors: Info
Arthur Aughey, Sylvie Batt, Fiachra Ó Ceilleachair, Peter Connell, Prionsias Ó Drisceoil, Eric Hobsbawm, Henry Patterson
Type:Publication Issue
View: View Document
Discuss:Comments on this document
Subjects: Northern Ireland Framework Documents, 1995 Divorce Referendum, 1986

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

23rd March 2009

The quantity of Democratic Left material in the Archive is fairly limited. However, due to a donation some time ago of a series of “Times Change”, the DL’s political and cultural review (which I have yet to return - so an address would be handy!) which are now scanned in that is set to change.

This Summer/Autumn edition appears at a particularly interesting time not least since the IRA ceasefires had occurred fairly recently. And the approach of Democratic Left to this development is best characterised in an editorial under the heading of “The Art of compromise” which is profoundly negative of the outcome.

Reading it at this remove it is remarkable how pessimistic a view of the capacity of others to change as DL had was intrinsic to their analysis. So we read that:

…what is the Republican Movement prepared to do to move the peace process forward? Decommission arms? No. Stop punishment beatings? No. Release the bodies of the disappeared? No. Agree to reform of Articles 2 and 3? No. Agree to the principle of unionist consent? No.

A piece by Arthur Aughey on the response of Unionism to the developments is equally pessimistic in tone. Indeed he argues that:

The frameworks have proposed some half-way house between unionism and nationalism, thereby equating the fact of the Union with the aspiration to Irish unity (without a proper deal on Articles 2 and 3). That is what Dick Spring understands ‘balance’ to mean. For the reasons I have outline, such a balance is unacceptable to unionists and will not achieve widespread acceptability. There needs to be fresh thinking.

Again, an intriguing analysis in the context of what has happened since.

Central concerns of Democratic Left including a leftist internationalism are seen in pieces on Nicaragua and France. An emphasis on social liberalism is articulated in an article on divorce, and it is notable that James Kelman is interviewed in this issue. There is an interesting, and perhaps somewhat unexpected, short appraisal of Roy Foster’s approach to the Famine in an article by Peter Connell which chastises historical revisionism in this context for ‘blurring the Famine’s impact…’. This is in addition to an article on the meaning of Famine commemoration by Proinsias O Drisceoil which makes some contentious assertions.

All told a useful insight into the party at that point in time.

This text and these files are a resource for use freely by anyone who wants to for whatever purpose - that’s the whole point of the Archive (well that and the discussions). But if you do happen to use them we’d really appreciate if you mentioned that you found them at the Irish Left Online Document Archive…

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sat, 28 Mar 2009 09:42:29

    You see that’s where you’re simply wrong Eamonn. Rackets run by everyone, an INLA that descended into madness, a PIRA that couldn’t rein in militarists and some who by any stretch were sectarians, an OIRA which people who knew better pretended didn’t exist even though it did tilt into criminality and worse and so on and so forth. There’s so much blame to go around the only question is where do we start?

    Which is no help at all. Indeed if we want to be callously utilitarian in our analysis it wasn’t the North or the Officials that was the problem, whatever the problems that came with them, but the South where the WP analysis in the 80s elided neatly with that of establishment Ireland and perhaps gave help to certain political and media forces who impeded the move towards a solution.

    You want to have it both ways, to say there was a war and in war shit happens and then to berate one group almost at the exclusion of all others, as if they were the utter personification of evil. I’m no fan of many of the events or approaches you list, but they’re equalled or by others (after all, be serious for a second, OIRA was a relatively small player by the mid-80s). And I’d also argue that despite the crimes visited upon many by the groups I mention above there were still people in all of them who were doing their best to hold the line as they saw it. And talking to all those involved as best we can is a good thing and maybe, just maybe might help in the future.

    Which leaves you in a position almost identical to that of Harris, et al, and the stirain of condemnation in the WP/DL which I personally particularly dislike.

    Oh, and I effin loathe Kim and that regime too.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Garibaldy Sat, 28 Mar 2009 10:50:00


    “but the South where the WP analysis in the 80s elided neatly with that of establishment Ireland and perhaps gave help to certain political and media forces who impeded the move towards a solution.”

    When exactly do you think in the 1980s we may have had a solution if it wasn’t for the nasty journalists and southern politicians? What you say above sounds good, but I think that on closer analysis, it falls apart completely. The PSF election slogan in 1987 was Peace, Freedom, Justice if I remember correctly. However, this was a year after McGuinness talked about how only the cutting edge would bring about a united Ireland, and the Provo campaign in the late 1980s showed no sign of slowing down. Quite the opposite due to the influx of modern weapons from Libya. That is to say nothing of the loyalists, who were getting reorganised with help from some in the security forces, the INLA, or the IPLO: none of them showed much desire for peace.

    Having said that, there were more noises about politics around this time. The unionists were agreeing to hold talks with the SDLP after some time not doing so (in Germany initially IIRC). McMichael produced Common Sense. Adams and Hume were meeting. But the Hume-Adams talks broke down NOT because of any outside pressure from the south, but because John Hume refused to meet the demands of the Provos to be filmed meeting masked members of their Army Council as he felt the whole thing was designed to give them a propaganda boost at his expense. In your desire to find fault with The WP approach, you are missing the big wood for a few sappling trees.

    In short, how you can presesnt an analysis where effectively people who were not engaged in terrorist violence in the 1980s are somehow made to seem the bad guys is beyond me. Ordinary working people were being killed in large numbers, often for sectarian reasons. The blame for the continuation of the various campaigns of violence in the 1980s needs to be put squarely where it belongs. On all those engaged in it, be they those colluding with paramilitaries, or the paramilitaries themselves.

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  • By: Eamonn Sat, 28 Mar 2009 12:08:13

    Garabaldie says “be they those colluding with paramilitaries, or the paramilitaries themselves” – that about sums it up. The brits and the right wingers like fitzgerald had no part in the troubles. This shows just how wrong the stickie theory is. No attempt to tackle the root cause but plenty of mud for slinging.
    There is plenty of blame to go around but for apologists like joe and garabaldie to absolve the sticks of any wrongdoing is poor. In Belfast, the sticks were working for the brits in obtaining information on the provos. Collaborators. That is the legacy of OIRA coupled with the 100% criminality.

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  • By: Eamonn Sat, 28 Mar 2009 12:13:39

    Maddog wilson…you’re totally right. I’m just headin’ out the door now for an afternoon of portar. I may be gone for a while…………….

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  • By: Garibaldy Sat, 28 Mar 2009 12:18:35

    Apparently Eamonn can’t read properly, failing to note where I mentioned security force collusion, which is what the section he quotes clearly refers to. As for the root cause of the violence. Sectarianism – it caused the creation of NI, dominated the nature of the state and of community relations, allied in a poisonous mix to a dispute over nationality.

    As for the rest, beneath response.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sat, 28 Mar 2009 14:41:23

    Eamonn… see what you started? See?

    Anyhow, Garibaldy, look back at what I wrote. I noted that the analysis during the 1980s and on into the early 1990s generated in part by the EHs and PDRs of the world, and let’s not forget Smullen and Co., was where it was impossible for PSF to ever go along a similar or even parallel route than the OSF/WP had done before, where any contact with them was anathema, where such mainstream figures as Hume et al were pilloried for their temerity in doing so. Is that all down the WP? Of course not, but I think it would be a brave person who disregarded their influence in certain areas during that time and their ability to shape the discourse.

    And the thing is that as you know from the instant PSF started to move towards the political, we can argue about the precise date, but let’s say a little before the hunger strikes was when the first shoots appeared as the Northern group took over, it was almost inevitable that the sort of compromises and dispensation that ultimately appeared was on the table. That’s how it works. That’s why RIRA and CIRA eschew political activity of any seriousness. None of that is to say that WP was wrong to point out wrongness in the 80s, but… given its past (and the residue of that past) it wasn’t in a position to shout too loud and shout so venomously (something that quite reasonably made a lot of people ask what was going on, hypocrisy, lack of insight into its own position, rapid rewriting of history, etc?).

    I also think that it’s important, as splintered sunrise notes often, to distinguish between a party’s formal programme and structure, and what actually is its approach to issues was. Sure, the WP right through the 80s was ‘Republican’ in formal terms, in almost precisely the same way as PSF was ‘Republican’ in formal terms, but in WPs approach it often seemed to be anything but aligning with Unionism. And I sat at Ard Fhéis after Ard Fhéis puzzling over motions, and indeed reports from the centre, that simply didn’t make any sense as regards our approach to the then prevailing situation, indeed at best made it appear we agreed with that situation and that the only problem was PIRA and PSF.

    And I read with interest and complete agreement your piece on the murders where you noted how volatile all this is and how crucial to avoid playing into certain hands by making the wrong moves – when in the 1980s the party seemed to implicitly and sometimes explicitly support precisely the sort of actions by the state which generated more and more negative effects.

    As regards people not being engaged in terrorism not being bad guys, that’s not my point, but it’s important not diminish the agency across the island of a group which couldn’t per definition be seen as anything other than a player.

    Finally, my gripe with WP is broadly on its approach to the North, something that I think was rectified somewhat following the DL split. I’d have other somewhat lesser issues re other aspects of its programme but I’d always be the first to say how in terms of a left approach it was vital in the South in terms of defending working class interests during the period.

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  • By: Garibaldy Sat, 28 Mar 2009 15:29:26

    I agree the Provo move into politics made the end of their violence inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that they realised it. I don’t think Ed Moloney is right to say all this was planned from c.1976. One of the indications of moving away from violence is running down capacity. No sign of that until the early 1990s. As for being in a position to shout too loud, there is an assumption there that the two types of campaign were identical. Certainly they shared aspects, but we should note what weren’t shared: the bombing of town centres, often with callous disregard for civilian life, and the sectarian element. Those are important differences. And my attitude here also applies to the Provos and their offshoots today. McGuinness is entitled to say what he said because he has changed his practices. Same with the UUP despite its history of running a corrupt and undemocratic state.

    Obviously I didn’t sit in on those Ard Fheiseanna but I have read a lot of the material from the time, and I don’t think that you could mistake The WP as a unionist party. In terms of concentrating criticism on one particular group, aside from the obvious historical and competitive reasons, we should remember that at the time in question, many of the other groups were much less active. IIRC, I think that one year in the mid-80s, the loyalists were reponsible for something like 5 deaths, while the INLA was tied up in its own problems. And sectarianism – which has lain at the heart of WP analysis – has always been regarded as something that came from throughout the society. I’d have said that the “USP” of The WP in the north in the 80s was anti-sectarianism, and that would have been seen as the main plank of policy by those watching.

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  • By: maddog Wilson Sat, 28 Mar 2009 16:21:51

    What actual evidence do you have that OIRA informed for the Brits?
    There were enough touts inside the provos throughout the troubles. Oc of Southern Command, Oc of internal security and head of SF administration at Stormont, the Brits did’nt need any from elsewhere.
    Perchance to dream… have a pint on me.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sat, 28 Mar 2009 16:36:08

    The problem is not that the WP was a Unionist party but that the positions it struck were such that they appeared to parallel Unionism and in some respects support it. And they seemed to diminish genuine complaints about state violence, shoot to kill, wrongful arrests, miscarriages of justice, militarisation etc, etc simply because the other ones made them.

    I agree with you that Moloney is over-egging the pudding. And I’d also agree that there was no conscious acceptance or realisation within SF of their situation until quite a few years later. Incidentally, running down capacity doesn’t per se mean moving away from violence. Logic would suggest that to argue from the strongest possible position one would arguably need to run it up or at least maintain it. After all what was decommissioning about? It sure wasn’t about people being worried that someone would leave the safety off on a gun and there might be an accident.

    As regards differences of approach, surely, although I’m not sure that was enough. But we still come back to a central problem. OSF WP, for all that it did many things right simply couldn’t deliver the message it did with any degree of conviction, IMHO. Particularly not given its very specific circumstances.

    And the interesting thing is that although there is a disdain for De Rossa et al and the DL move, in a way it was an entirely logical shift (even if from my perspective completely wrong) in terms of the general dynamic within WP. Only a pretty much completely reformulated party, whatever the sincerity of those within it, could appear as an honest broker.

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  • By: Garibaldy Sat, 28 Mar 2009 17:09:43

    Interesting point on the capacity argument. And on the DL thing. Although again, as we’ve noted before, our takes on the reasons for that are different. Me thinking it was mainly motivated by a combination of moving to the right and opportunism at the top.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sat, 28 Mar 2009 18:52:01

    I think there was an element of that absolutely. And depending on who it was there was more or less. But I also think that there was a wish to establish clear water, in other words to stop the pointing fingers. Personally, as you know, I had and have no problem countering those sort of finger pointing attacks. The party could stand (mostly) on its record over the years, whatever about its approach to various matters. But others obviously felt differently. And here’s a mad irony. The finger pointers were comprised of the very ones who had taken on board the more egregious elements of the BICO/EH analysis over the years. Equal opportunity finger pointers we could call them (although I was also amazed at how rapidly DL went from anathema to FG to absolutely crucial partner in government). And I’ll bet had the party vote gone over the 2/3rds and gone for a reformulation or whatever the in-word was without splitting, FG would have probably held their nose and still done the deal if deal there was to be done in the mid-90s.

    Although I’ll bet that it wouldn’t just have been a few people leaving DL due to the deal but a lot more entrenched antagonism to coalition.

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  • By: Garibaldy Sat, 28 Mar 2009 19:01:34

    I think you’re right that a deal would have been done. Do you not think that had the “re-registration” programme gone ahead there would have been a purge of many of the members opposed to the DL faction? I don’t see how that that could not have been the result. Not Mac Giolla given his importance, but certainly most of the revolutionary socialists, especially from the north. I’ve never actually asked, but I doubt that some of them would have wanted to stay anyway. I agree entirely that had they remained, there would have been massive opposition to coalition – hence why they had to be removed via the re-registration scheme.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sat, 28 Mar 2009 20:13:03

    I don’t know. I imagine it would have depended on whether there was a strong internal organisation of those groupings (and I think there were groupings because some people, and I’m thinking of people who later gravitated to the ISN, were left critics of the DL line as well). I suspect though that the leadership would have simply ignored them. And the other thing is that almost 2/3rds voted for the change. That’s a lot of people. The only thing is that if people had stayed it might have been more like, say, The Left Party in Germany, or at least the potential would have been there.

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  • By: Baku26 Sat, 28 Mar 2009 20:34:32

    At 38 Eamonn derides Joe for alleged bitterness. Perhaps he should read his own post at 41 for a fine example of that genre. For a good example of active collusion with the British forces against Republicans he might like to acquaint himself with the Provo role in the so-called “Incident Centres” in the early 70’s.

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  • By: Garibaldy Sat, 28 Mar 2009 21:01:35

    I think that it was clear that there would continue to be organised resistance, and that was liable to grow as they accelerated the move to the right. And the DLers knew it. Hard to say though.

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  • By: Joe Mon, 30 Mar 2009 15:27:22

    Post 38: Bitterness through lifelong failure.
    You got me in one Eamonn. But… there’s a turn in every road – I succeeded in getting you ranting in anyway.
    Here’s to further successes going forward.
    Although I love that line so much. Has the WP come up with a slogan for the forthcoming locals down here Gari? Cos there’s one you just couldn’t pass up:
    Vote WP
    Bitterness through lifelong failure

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  • By: Maddog Wilson Mon, 30 Mar 2009 15:53:03

    Joe do you know how many candidates the WP are standing outside of Cork and Waterford there is nothing on their website yet?

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  • By: Joe Mon, 30 Mar 2009 16:21:44

    Maddog you know as much as me. I think there was something on another thread here a while back about 4 candidates in Dublin. Why not email them?

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  • By: Maddog Wilson Mon, 30 Mar 2009 16:39:40

    Thanks Joe.

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  • By: Starkadder Sat, 11 Apr 2009 22:04:03

    I was flicking thru “Sinn Fein and the Politics of Left Republicanism”
    today and there was a section on the whole OSF/WP/DL history,so
    I might buy it to learn more.

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