Political Freedom and the Siege of Derry
Organisation: Northwest Labour Publications
Contributor:Brendan Clifford
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Discuss:Comments on this document

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

19th March 2012

This is an interesting document, in that while it isn’t overtly badged by a left party or formation is clearly linked in some way to the Aubane Historical Society (formerly BICO). NorthWest Labour Publications were based in Derry.

According to the Introduction, penned by Pat Muldowney, it seeks to determine what ‘kind of historic event do the Apprentice Boys commemorate each August? It is time that some attempt was made to give a straight answer’.

And it asks ‘if what the Apprentice Boys commemorate annually is the birth of Constitutional freedom, why is the commemoration resented by most of the people of Derry?’

Following on from that it notes that ‘If the Closing of the Gates marked the birth of freedom, why did Derry itself have to wait until the 1970s for a local government based on the majority? And does not the political history of the city from 1689 to the 1970s suggest the Gates were Closed in the interest of establishing the dominance of an intolerant sect over the mass of the people?’

These are important questions. If the Apprentice Boys commemorate the birth of freedom, socialists should use their influence to discourage opposition to their parade. But if what they commemorate is sectarian supremacy, then it is their activity that should be discouraged.

We begin a discussion of this serious matter by reprinting an article from the Irish Political Review (October 1996).

The document contains the transcript of a Radio Ulster interview with Jonathan Bardon from 1996 which as it notes acerbically ‘[he was brought on] to explain[s] why the siege was a great event in the progress of humanity towards whatever it was progressing towards. Bardon’s exposition was followed by a discussion involving Gregory Campbell of the Democratic Unionist Party and others. Bardon a College lecturer in Belfast, is of Ascendancy background, which is not the same thing as Ulster Unionist background.’

It continues:

There was a time when the Ascendancy looked down with contempt or embarrassment on Protestant Ulster. But Bardon appears to be entirely in sympathy with it. And Gregory Campbell responded to his sympathy with a due, but nevertheless surprising, nod of deference.

This is followed by ‘a comment on it from the historian Brendan Clifford’. This comment runs for four pages and is structured under headings such as THE TRUTH, WHY THE GATES WERE CLOSED, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM and DEMOCRACY.’

The conclusion is of some interest. Clifford asserts that ‘The reason there must be an accommodation between the Protestant and Catholic communities is because the Protestant community exists, and not because it stood for any kind of popular freedom in Ireland three hundred years ago. What it stood for three hundred years ago was conquest, plunder, genocide and Protestant theocracy.’


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  • By: Justin Mon, 19 Mar 2012 19:10:11

    Amazing how bico managed to turn 180 degrees in its views on the North without ever having been wrong about anything. Ever. I recall a bico article from the 80s which said that radio 4’s use of lillebulero as its opening tune was an example of how the ulster prods were an integral part of liberal uk culture. They worked so hard to build up the integrationist Campaign for Equal Citizenship only to promptly wreck the thing they had made as soon as it began to gain some popularity. Entertainingly loopy back then with some sensible stuff in the mix. David Morrison currently writes for them and his material on Blair and Iraq has been second to none. And some of the historical reprints were excellent. I love their reprint of Captain deCuellar’s letter about his time among the Irish “savages”. I’ve stopped reading them since Church and State declared that Fianna Fail was “the natural party of government”. Who needs the grief?

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 19 Mar 2012 19:58:06

    In reply to Justin.

    And do you remember the CLR, Campaign for Labour Representation (any coincidence of initials with this site purely accidental I have to stress). I remember being at a USI congress in the midish 80s where they’d sort of got a toehold in some of the Northern colleges amongst some reps and where the debates were – well, heated. Was it the same story as the CES?

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  • By: Starkadder Mon, 19 Mar 2012 20:08:53

    This is the first I’ve heard of “North West Labour Publications”,
    although a search of the Linen Hall’s online catalogue yields
    a 1998 publication by the same
    “Guns for democracy’s table : a review of the physical force unionism of the Ulster Unionist Party” .

    was also a journal, “North West labour news” that may have
    been linked to this publication.

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  • By: Justin Mon, 19 Mar 2012 23:04:32

    Yes, I think the CLR preceded the CEC and as I understood it both were portrayed as attempts to “normalise” NI through integration into the UK political mainstream. I recall much talk of the “pygmy politics” of those who wished to see a devolved administration. In my view a pathetic labour party -either the patheitic, toadying Irish one or the useless run-by-toffs one in GB should set up in the North.Why the hell not? Not that I’d vote for them.

    But in my view BICO was as much about, to put it mildly, pugnacious style as about political analysis. In his engaging late-80s book on Thomas Russell and Belfast, Clifford writes to the effect that, although not an aristocrat, Russell had the bearing of an aristocrat and was the aristocratic presence that the city needed. I doubt that it’s true about Russell, but there’s certain amount of projection going on there, I think.

    Robert McCartney was initially the leading light of the CEC and plastered all over the cover of BICO’s A Belfast Magazine. But they soon parted company. I believe it was the closest the BICO got to the “big-time”, with a young BICO member sharing the stage of the Ulster Hall for a CEC rally. And then in the early 90s when realised they couldn’t get the integrated settlement they had fought for within the UK, they decided that SF one-nationism was the best route to an integrated political settlement on the island. And they’ve been marching forward towards the 1950s ever since.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 20 Mar 2012 07:18:44

    In reply to Justin.

    It’s odd, I’d almost entirely forgotten McCartney’s involvement, but it’s entirely true. His brand of unionism was almost the perfect representation of what was sought for a while, until it was clear it was a non-starter with…er… most actual unionists.

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  • By: Phil Tue, 20 Mar 2012 14:33:06

    In reply to WorldbyStorm.

    Careful, or I’ll start on the Labour Committee for Peace and Progress in Ireland stories.

    (Well, stories plural is a slight exaggeration, but I do know one and a bit.)

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  • By: FergusD Tue, 20 Mar 2012 15:42:16

    In reply to Justin.

    There is a sort of logic to it though. They argued NI’s provincial politics would always be sectarian (true?) and to replace this with class politics required integration into a larger entity where class politics were the norm – the UK. so no home rule for NI and Labour and Tory representation in NI. Alas, the UK govt wanted to keep NI at arms length, so they abandoned that and “adopted” unification with the RoI as a trategy to combat provincial sectarianism (?). The RoI which wasn’t/isn’t dominated by class politics though so..? According to BICO SF has clear purpose (apparently) and that is to be admired. I think that is what they like – a party with a purpose – no matter what that purpose is (FF?).

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  • By: Eddie B Tue, 20 Mar 2012 19:22:13

    The law suit by the ‘knitting professor’ finished Belfast magazine, did it not?

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  • By: Starkadder Tue, 20 Mar 2012 19:52:50

    In reply to Eddie B.

    After the lawsuit ended, “A Belfast Magazine” ceased
    publication as a periodical. Several years
    later, Clifford later resurrected the title for a series of pamphlets; as an amused “Books Ireland” reviewer noted, the first ones carried the subtitle “As suppressed by Mary McAleese!”

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  • By: Justin Tue, 20 Mar 2012 20:03:06

    It might have failed anyway, but the kind of liberal unionism that McCartney espoused was certainly dealt a death blow by the institutionalised sectarianism of the Stormont regime. if any future leader of the UUP has the balls to go into opposition, liberal unionism might live again.

    Good point, Fegus D, about the way they like clarity. Maybe they want the world to be as cut and dried as one of their own polemics

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  • By: FergusD Wed, 21 Mar 2012 09:51:16

    In reply to Justin.

    Justin, A visit to the “Athol Books” (current incarnation of BICO?) site is worth it as you can read editorials from their magazines e.g. Irish Political Review. Some interesting stuff and some, frankly bizarre stuff, there. The recession is due to democracy apparently – because the people voted for governments (e.g. FF) who persued the financial services holy grail to bring dosh in, and fuel property speculation. So it is the electorate’s fault and tehy should just take the medicine. Nothing about the fundamental forces of capitalism. Socialism is no longer mentioned really.

    Interesting stuff on WW1 and WW2 though, and the aftermath of both. They do like Germany don’t they, and seem taken with the Ottoman Empire (it was functional and kept the peace in the Middle East for centuries. Functionality seems to be the most important thing. Also Saddam Hussein introduced a liberal western-style regime in Iraq apparently. Some truth in these views but…).

    I really must kick the habit though, it’s like collecting bubble gum cards.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Wed, 21 Mar 2012 10:20:23

    In reply to FergusD.

    On a footnote Kevin Myers also likes the Ottoman empire.

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  • By: Justin Wed, 21 Mar 2012 12:06:55

    So, some blame cronyism, others put the boot into the public sector and the Athols blame – everyone. God help us.

    I recall that in the 80s the Communist ran articles opposing the setting up of Greater London Council because they felt it would attempt to regulate and thus stifle the free-wheeling capitalist spirit of the city. They made the point that under the free market people sank or swam and were responsible for making their own lives and meanings, all of which would be undermined by the GLC. I remember thinking, who needs the right when the “communists” are coming out with this stuff.

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  • By: Left Archive: Additional information on the Campaign for Equal Citizenship « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Wed, 21 Mar 2012 17:55:48

    […] who forwarded a photocopy of this, from Fortnight magazine, 1988 and of relevance to the post here and Archive documents on the British and Irish Communist Organisation (by the way, an interesting […]

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  • By: NollaigO Wed, 21 Mar 2012 18:34:13

    In reply to Justin.

    …I recall that in the 80s the Communist ran articles opposing the setting up of Greater London Council …

    Justin, what are you talking about?

    The GLC was set up in 1965! There was a major political conflict between the GLC under Livingstone and Thatcher in the early 1980s resulting in her abolishingit in 1986!

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  • By: Justin Thu, 22 Mar 2012 15:51:13

    In reply to NollaigO.

    Exactly. Thanks for that

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  • By: Linke alte neue Archivalien « Entdinglichung Sat, 24 Mar 2012 17:48:44

    […] “Political Freedom and the Siege of Derry”, Reprint from Irish Political Review by NorthWest Lab… (1997) – Fortnight: Additional information on the Campaign for Equal Citizenship (1988) – Irish […]

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  • By: click here Wed, 07 Nov 2012 14:57:44

    I want to to thank you for this wonderful read!! I certainly loved every little bit of
    it. I’ve got you bookmarked to check out new things you post…

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