A Failed Political Entity
Date:1988
Organisation:Dublin '68 Committee
Contributor:Vincent MacDowell
Collection:Remembering 1969
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

28th August 2009

I’m indebted to Jim Monaghan for forwarding this to the Archive, and at precisely the right time too. This is definitely turning into history week on the CLR, and why not. Anyhow, to some extent this doesn’t really belong in the Left Archive, since this is a document that could be argued emanates from traditional Irish nationalism. Consequently I’m posting it out of the usual sequence.

However, as an insight into how the events of 1968 and 1969 resonated long afterward in Irish political life, and for the particular analysis of the events of those years, it provides some use.

Printed in the late 1980s it draws together an eclectic mix of figures, from former Fianna Fáil Minister Kevin Boland, clearly the prime mover behind it, Vincent MacDowell, a former Vice-Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1969 and others. Even the then indefatigable Ulick O’Connor makes an appearance, and there’s a snippet from Charles Haughey on p.39, but there’s little reason to get overly excited by that, it is just a snippet.

In other words this is a Fianna Fáil, or more precisely a dissident Fianna Fáil (to coin a phrase), production. Perhaps the piece of most relevance is that by Vincent MacDowell, A Failed Political Entity. It is fascinating as much for what it ignores as what it includes. Indeed I find the way it draws a line between civil rights and then nationalism/Republicanism with no clear left element to be hugely instructive. Anyway, that’s just my first impression.

Interesting to know peoples thoughts on this.


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  • By: Jim Monaghan Sat, 29 Aug 2009 07:10:52

    Vincent Mc Dowel was a very interesting person.
    IRA Belfast during WW2. In unit commanded by Protestants, officer a Graham who died relatively recently.Both Vincent and his mother were emprisoned.
    Reactivated a Labour Party in Belfast, got Beattie elected to Westminister, I think late 40s
    Went South?
    Vice Chair Irish Labour Party.
    Member NICRA executive.
    Joined Greens, election candidate Dun laoghire.
    Replaced by Ciaran Cuffe. (I think McDowell would have had more backbone than Cuffe, but young and trendy sometimes wins over age and experience)
    Wrote “The brotherhood” fictionalised account of IRB and Collins.
    Boland was a participant he was not the main person, more one of the great and the good roped in.Boland accounts 2/3 of the rotting of FF are interesting even if he is out by a decade or two or 4.He and Blaney made the careers of those who ousted them. I remember Blaney telling me how his machine put Des O’Malley into the Dail with great regret.

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  • By: NollaigO Sat, 29 Aug 2009 10:24:51

    Jim,
    I’m pleased to see that Vincent McDowell is being remembered in these columns.
    I met Vincent on a number of occasions that he spoke at Irish meetings in London in the 1970s and I can confirm your account of the IRA unit in Belfast with Protestant volunteers. Are there any further accounts of these volunteers?
    Wasn’t Vincent involved in the post-WW2 Belfast trotskyist group?
    Vincent was also very keen on the Irish Labour Party organising north of the Border and he had close connections with the Newry branch. I remember attending the 1970 Labour Party conference. Vincent was very active at that conference ensuring that the Newry delegates were granted speaking rights.[The CLR archives contain a publication, Labour. There is an article in that edition which has accounts of the Newry and Warrenport brances. Both had members on the local councils.]
    https://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2008/04/21/the-left-archive-labour-from-the-irish-labour-party-1967/
    Once when he spoke at a meeting in London, Vincent found himself,unwittingly, in the middle of a factious meeting. A prominent IS supporter accused him of standing in a Dáil election against Noel Browne. Vincent replied that the accusation was true – he had stood as the Labour Party candidate against Noel Browne when Browne was the Fianna Fáil candidate!

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sat, 29 Aug 2009 10:51:24

    That’s a great story NollaigO… tell me do either of you know what were his politics most recently? Green?

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sat, 29 Aug 2009 10:55:26

    And I should add, nice to get at least some element of a ‘left’ linkage into the piece so it does fit in the Archive. Again, many thanks Jim.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Sat, 29 Aug 2009 18:33:08

    I have an interview buried somewhere.
    He gor involved in reviving the the Norther equivalent of the ILP. It had been in alliance with the CPI pre war. Victor Halley is the name I think off?
    He was a major figure behind Beatties victory. Beattie was the “nationalist/Republican” labour as distinct to Midgley who became an Unionist.Beattie was a Protestant, I think?
    The IRA unit Vincent was in had 6/7 officers. All were protestant except one who broke under interrogation.This is from memory. Graham died recently, a few yaers ago. Obit. I think in Irish Times or An Phoblacht or both.
    He told me a lovely story of the IRA declaring war on the USA if it did not evacuate the North within a certain period and Vincent found himself delivering leaflets to this effect to bemused GIs in Belfast cafes alongside a Cumann na mBan.Vincent at the door with a revolver and his aprtner delivering the leaflets.
    Vincents daughter was the Green MEP for Leinster.
    His son Uinseann is a prominent Irish language journalist and writer.
    He was ousted by Cuffe, I think on the basis of agism and not being young and trendy. They wll deny this but I beleive it wa a major factor.
    His first wife was in the small Belfast Trotskyist group around the Spanish Civil War vet. Bob Armstrong. Footnote, Armstrong features in the autobio. of Mac Stiofain. Amstrong stayed involved in Irish Solidarity in the 50s in London and met and influenced MacStiofain.Brian Moore, the write,r was episodically involved as well.
    I knew and liked him. By modern standards he would not probably be left (in rhetoric)enough but given his times very left and he did not drift to the right.
    Put Vincent in a list with every Labour figure from 1945 on and he comes out well under nearly all indices.In Nicra he was allied nearly all the time with PD.

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  • By: NollaigO Sat, 29 Aug 2009 20:42:53

    That’s a great post Jim.Thanks for the information.

    An buille scóir:

    A fine republican socialist.

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen Linken « Entdinglichung Fri, 04 Sep 2009 09:39:39

    […] Sinn Féin: The United Irishman (incorporating Resistance), September 1969 * Dublin 68 Committee: A Failed Political Entity: Studies in Unionism, The Civil Rights Campaign, Discrimination and The Wa… […]

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  • By: soubresauts Fri, 04 Sep 2009 11:05:43

    Most of us ex-Greens remember Vincent McDowell very well, though we wouldn’t be familiar with his previous political activities. I recall that when Vincent was a candidate in local and general elections there was some unease about his IRA past. But there was tremendous cohesion in the party, especially because of consensus decision-making (since abandoned, of course). The party could effectively accommodate various shades of opinion and tradition.

    During Vincent’s Green Party heyday, the independent county councillor Richard Greene (mentioned in another current thread) joined the party and began to throw his unGreen weight around. It was the consensus decision-making process that persuaded Greene and his cronies that they didn’t belong.

    I don’t think that Vincent would be happy with the men in suits who control the Green Party these days, but who knows? Vincent’s daughter, Nuala Ahern, Leinster MEP for 10 years, seems to be happy with the Greens in Government.

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